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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Marino: It’s Time to Cut Costs

Making Dartmouth more accessible by curbing administrative spending is necessary to increase middle-class student representation.

In 1995, Dartmouth’s total tuition for one year including fees, food and housing was $23,615. Today it amounts to $84,270. While inflation and improvements to financial aid account for part of the tuition increase, the vast majority of tuition increases have gone towards increased operating costs. Proponents of the College’s current tuition scheme might argue that despite increasing costs, Dartmouth is more accessible than ever. Today’s financial aid packages no longer contain student loans, and Dartmouth’s financial aid website states that “families with total annual income below $65,000… have a zero parent contribution expectation.” Yet, Dartmouth remains inaccessible to many middle-class families.

Dartmouth’s tuition is still hard to afford for many families, especially those seeking to send multiple children to college and those who only qualify for limited financial aid. Partially as a result, 58% of Dartmouth’s current student body comes from families in the top 10% of family income in the United States, suggesting that sending a student to Dartmouth remains unaffordable for many, especially those in the middle class. Dartmouth offers underprivileged families generous financial aid packages, practices need-blind admissions and conducts outreach programs in underserved communities, allowing the College to support around 120 students from the bottom 20% of family income. However, none of these programs are offered to middle-class families, who still face the burden of high tuition and represent a small percentage of Dartmouth students. Dartmouth must make itself more accessible to middle-class families.

While some argue that Dartmouth and similar elite institutions need additional federal stimulus —  such as student loan forgiveness — to become more accessible, the Biden administration’s current student loan forgiveness policy would prove ineffective at supporting economic diversity at elite institutions. Aside from the ethical concerns of such a policy — which burdens taxpayers with loan payments for which they have no responsibility — there is little likelihood that the policy itself will have any meaningful effect on Dartmouth or other elite institutions for a few reasons. First, future student loans will not be forgiven. The plan may still help some Dartmouth graduates, but it is not a long-term solution to lowering costs. Second, Dartmouth does not offer student loans in any of its financial aid packages. Third, most of the students who would take out loans — because Dartmouth does not offer them enough financial aid at their income level — are not considered “low-income earners” who qualify for student loan assistance under the Biden plan. Therefore, even if the Biden administration’s SAVE student loan forgiveness policy survives potential legal challenges, it is unlikely to have any meaningful effect on Dartmouth’s economic diversity.

Elite universities are often criticized for their large and costly administrative bureaucracies, and Dartmouth is no different. As identified in a previous op-ed by Rhea Karty, Dartmouth’s administrative body has eaten up an increasing amount of the College’s funding at the expense of academic instruction, which seems to be the most logical explanation for Dartmouth’s sky-high tuition. If two part-time employees are counted as the equivalent of one full-timer, Dartmouth hires a total of 3,218 people as full-time administrative staff to oversee operations for a student body of 6,761 and a faculty population of 945 across all schools. Why is Dartmouth’s administration so large and costly?

First, Dartmouth’s administrative system is laden with redundancy. Dartmouth divides its administration into 12 branches, many of which handle overlapping tasks. For example, Dartmouth’s Advancement Office handles conferences and event planning, but each administrative office and many of the different academic departments also handle event planning. The Advancement Office offers room booking, but to book a room, Advancement has to coordinate with other administrators who manage the buildings to book a room, demonstrating its inefficiency. Other examples of administrative redundancy include the existence of multiple faculty oversight operations, multiple investment-related offices, multiple diversity offices and the existence of multiple sponsored programs offices. Not only do redundant programs and offices result in increased costs, but they also undermine the goals of their work because redundant offices have to compete for resources available for their programs.

Second, Dartmouth has an overhiring problem. For instance, the College employs 366 administrators in the Office of the Dean of Faculty to oversee 640 Arts and Sciences faculty. This means that for every two faculty members, there will be at least one administrator employed for direct faculty/academic management in that office only, not including other redundant faculty oversight offices in separate departments. Given that faculty at an Ivy League institution should not require much oversight, having 366 administrators seems overblown. In addition, Dartmouth also employs 775 administrators in the Office of the Provost’s department, which oversees 25 miscellaneous programs such as the Electron Microscope Facility and the Hood Museum of Art. Given that many of the Provost programs are small-scale, employing 775 administrators is a waste of resources.

Dartmouth’s administration has grown so much that surgical spending cuts alone could not address the root of the issue. Instead, Dartmouth’s leadership should seek to restructure its administration from the ground up to reduce the administration’s 12-branch structure and cut superfluous programs. After eliminating redundancies, these remaining programs should be evaluated for their effectiveness by the Office of Institutional Research, so that only worthwhile programs remain. While the thought of reducing administrative costs through layoffs is difficult in a tight-knit community like Dartmouth, such measures are necessary to ensure that the school lives up to its mission of providing higher education that is accessible to all.

Jack Marino is a member of the Class of 2027. Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.

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