Dartmouth College will join the handful of US universities offering admission to undergraduates from around the world regardless of their ability to pay, in an effort to improve the diversity of its intake.
Foreign applicants will from this year be selected in the same “need-blind” way as US citizens and offered financial aid if their family income is judged insufficient to pay the annual tuition and accommodation fees of $80,000.
Philip Hanlon, president of Dartmouth, told the Financial Times: “Talent is spread all across the world. We want to remove any financial barriers. This move benefits every student on campus, not just international ones. Tomorrow’s leaders have to be global citizens. By us bringing together students from all over the world . . . they will learn from their peers.”
The action comes at a time of soaring higher education costs in the US and growing concerns over the volume of unpaid student debts, sparking calls for write-offs.
It also follows a recent damping in demand by international students, linked to tougher visa conditions and hostile rhetoric by Donald Trump, the former US president, as well as travel and study restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dartmouth, based in New Hampshire, has increased the share of international students among its annual intake of 1,150 from 8 per cent in 2013 when Hanlon took charge, to 14 per cent in its most recent class. While he said there was no target, he expected “international applications will skyrocket” and would not be surprised if the proportion reached 25 per cent in the coming decade.
Dartmouth has stepped up recruitment abroad, diversifying from students often drawn from richer families in Canada, Europe, China and India to offer financial aid to those from other countries such as Kenya, Vietnam and Brazil.
The college is the first in the prestigious Ivy League in a decade to offer universal need-blind admission, following Harvard, Yale and Princeton as well as Massachusetts Institute of Technology and liberal arts college Amherst. It was made possible by donations of $90m to its Call to Lead campaign, including a record $40m gift from a single anonymous donor, topping up its endowment valued at $8.5bn.
Some US colleges have announced and later dropped need-blind admission policies over the past few years, citing the financial strain at a time when their costs have been rising. Supporters of the system argue that it boosts diversity. Critics caution that it can encourage students from lower-income families to apply to costly institutions and incur high debts as part of financial aid packages to cover their costs.
This week, the Wall Street Journal first reported that a group of former students had sued some of the country’s elite colleges, including Dartmouth, accusing them of participating in an alleged cartel by operating “need-aware” admissions that took into account applicants’ financial needs.
Dartmouth has a wider $500m fundraising campaign set to be achieved in 2023, which includes a programme to switch from loans offered as part of financial aid packages to full scholarships.
It has limited tuition fee increases and recently raised the threshold so applicants’ families with incomes below $125,000 a year have full tuition scholarships.