Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Op-Ed on Financial Aid Repackaging

This is significantly less exciting than the news over President Wright's resignation and the recent court ruling on the College's Motion to Dismiss, but still worth mentioning: The Daily Dartmouth published an utterly baffling editorial today in the opinion section about Dartmouth's recent improvements in its financial aid policy.

Tina Prapotnik '09 writes:
"... Dartmouth still remains out of reach for many students capable of succeeding here. The new financial aid plan — though a major improvement to its predecessor — is still far from making a Dartmouth education universally accessible. In fact, this plan’s mass appeal will make a Dartmouth degree even more elusive; a growing and increasingly competitive applicant pool will ensure that Dartmouth remains one of the most exclusive American institutions."
And:
"Let’s stop pretending: The new plan does not make it much easier for students to be here. For every student who has succeeded at the Dartmouth admissions roulette, there are seven who have not. That number will be even higher or the Class of 2013."
And:
"The new financial aid initiative helps ameliorate — but not eliminate — the role that financial need plays as one of many factors determining whether a student can become a part of the Dartmouth community. A student can have it all; he may be a great person, a great scholar, a great athlete and a great community activist. Still, he may not have the opportunity to attend Dartmouth. The College’s limited capacity and opaque admissions process continue to buttress the insurmountable walls of our ivory tower."

So... the new financial aid plan can't solve the problem of Dartmouth's exclusion of economically-disadvantaged applicants because the admissions process is still *academically* exclusive? Nobody is trying to make Dartmouth "universally accessible" to everyone in the world -- if Dartmouth did not employ a selective admissions process, its quality of eduation would suffer greatly. Rather, the new financial aid plan aims to make Dartmouth "universally accessible" to everyone in the world bright enough, and qualified enough, to gain acceptance to the College.

The author seems to miss the point: the goal of the new financial aid package is not to make it "much easier for [mediocre or reasonably good] students to be here", but to make it "much easier for [excellent, regardless of economic background] students to be here." Honestly, is promoting meritocracy so wrong?

Of course, theories abound as to how economic background may influence how "qualified" a college applicant appears, but the author makes no mention of them: she conflates economic exclusiveness with academic exclusiveness with no explanation for her reasoning.

P.S. Does Tina Prapotnik '09 even exist? Her name, or any variation thereof, does not appear in the Dartmouth Name Directory, and a Google search yields only the D article and a few quiz bowl sites. I'd guess that this is a handy pseudonym for some staff columnist at large (a la "Sandra Himen"), but the other search results seem to indicate otherwise...

UPDATE: The Daily D spelled Praprotnik's name wrong. —A.S.

4 comments:

Dan said...

Thanks for posting. i read this one and honestly had no idea what she was talking about. Is the $75,000 threshold for free tuition too low? Too high? Does she want stricter admissions standards for people who can pay the full price? Who is going to pay the bills if everyone goes to Dartmouth for free?

And where the hell was her editor?

Anonymous said...

Silly op-ed. Praprotnik makes the legitimate point that Dartmouth turns away thousands of people every year who could succeed here.

Aside from that, she makes little sense and her main complaint is that Dartmouth is small. Perhaps expanding financial aid isn't enough--Dartmouth has a moral responsibility to expand to the size of U. Michigan and to educate everyone for free.

Maybe the deadline was approaching and she hadn't thought of anything to write about yet.

Anonymous said...

While her op-ed has left many reasons for legitimate criticism, her conclusion is spot on... Dartmouth students, while exceptional, are here due to both merit AND a subjective luck of the draw vis-a-vis others, and therefore they have a moral obligation to make the most of their time here and of their education post-graduation. Maybe a new slant for the "we have work to do" convocation speeches.

Anonymous said...

Dartmouth students, while exceptional, are here due to both merit AND a subjective luck of the draw vis-a-vis others, and therefore they have a moral obligation to make the most of their time here and of their education post-graduation.

This is certainly true, and it doesn't hurt to be reminded of that sometimes. Even so, that doesn't mean that the financial aid office is a bunch of liars or that the new financial aid stuff isn't significant.

The "let's stop pretending" part assumes that Financial Aid is pretending that every qualified student can come to Dartmouth for free. I don't think Financial Aid has put forth any such pretense.