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Bottom Line: Dartmouth’s Tuck School gets a few hard knocks

  • John Lippman. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 11/2/2019 10:25:20 PM
Modified: 11/3/2019 2:36:42 PM

Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business is one of the top business schools in the country, but here’s one superlative I’d bet the Ivy League school would rather not have: Tuck had the biggest drop in applicants among the country’s most prestigious business schools.

Tuck’s applications sank 22.5% in 2018-19 to 2,032, a drop of 589 applicants from the prior year and the lowest level in recent memory, according to Poets & Quants, a news site that covers business schools.

Applications have been declining at B-schools everywhere and Tuck’s decline, on a percentage basis, was the second steepest among 25 leading B-schools in the country, following a 31.5% drop at Indiana University’s B-school.

But in its peer group of 13 elite MBA programs — five of the Ivies plus MIT, Stanford, Berkeley, Northwestern, Michigan, Georgetown and Duke — Tuck applications took the biggest hit, followed by Yale School of Management (-15.6%) and Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Business (-15.5%), the Wall Street Journal reported last month.

What’s going on? Blame the economy — only not in a way you might expect.

“The economy and graduate and business school applications tend to be counter-cyclical,” said Luke Anthony Peña, executive director of admissions and financial aid at Tuck.

“During a strong employment market there are many more opportunities to level-up skills” that take away some of the incentive to get an MBA degree, he explained.

Translation: Good times can be good for those on the management fast track but less good for B-schools.

The strong U.S. economy makes it more financially attractive to skip B-school (and saves more than $200,000 in total in tuition and living expenses) for people eyeing management or starting their own businesses. 

Indeed, the total number of people applying for admission to B-schools has declined for the fifth consecutive year, according to the Graduate Management Admission Council.

In the crop of applicants for the 2019-20 year, business schools received 135,096 applications, down 9.1% from last year, the association counts.

And last year total applications were down 7% from the prior year.

The only school to buck the trend is the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, where applications rose 3.4% to 4,433.

But applicant trends, like the stock market, can be volatile.

The year before in the 2017-2018 cycle Dartmouth was the only B-school to see its applications increase, up 0.4% to 2,621 while all its peer schools posted declines. And that same year Chicago’s Booth saw applications tumble 8.2%.

“Historically, Tuck experiences a one- to two-year lag” behind application trends at other business schools, Pena said, so Tuck’s numbers reflect a catching up, of sorts.

Another factor weighing on B-school applications is the turn in U.S. immigration policy and trade tensions with China, which is leading to fewer overseas students applying to U.S. schools. Foreign students are worried U.S. anti-immigration policies mean they won’t be able to get a work visa to stay in the country after graduation.

“Harsh rhetoric in the U.S. on visa policies and immigration is driving international students elsewhere. If those students can't innovate in the United States, they'll innovate someplace else,” GMAC said.

So unsurprisingly international students are turning to B-schools in other countries.

The Graduate Management Admission Council reported that international applications at U.S. business schools fell 13.7% this year — while increasing for B-schools in Canada and Europe. (Tuck draws heavily from international students, with 38% of the 284 members of the class of 2021 coming from outside the U.S., according to its 2021 class profile).

Businesses are also getting better — motivated by the need to retain employees — with in-house training and education programs, Pena noted. And, increasingly, online programs and credentialing pull applicants away from residential programs.

As any management consultant would advise for a hefty fee, Tuck listened to feedback from applicants and tweaked its application so as not to discourage candidates from applying, Pena said.

The format for the recommendation letter was redrafted to align with the format of other B-schools so applicants wouldn’t have to ask for a separate letter just for their Tuck application.

Tuck also relaxed the required word count (note to ed.: see that?) on written answers for application questions and pushed back the application deadline to Oct. 7, a few weeks behind other schools.

(Editor’s Note: Valley News writers who seem to have no problem hitting minimum word counts are free to write less. Encouraged, even.)

The applicant picture isn’t entirely a Dilbertesque downward slope graph for Tuck, however. Two data points in particular stand out.

Despite the plunge in Tuck applicants, the average GMAT test score for a member of the 2021 entering class is 732 (out of a possible 800), the highest in the school’s history.

And minority students account for 24% of the class.

“Market corrections are bracing,” said Pena, who noted that peak applicants are probably in B-schools’ past. “Yet this is a reduction in excess demand ... we still have more than seven applications for every seat at Tuck.”

So bone up on that GMAT.

Federal grant for TREAT is no trick

It has a mouthful of a name, but it does good work, and it’s just received a grant to further its mandate in helping inventors bring their medical rehabilitative devices to market: The Lebanon-based Center for Translation of Rehabilitation Engineering and Technology, known as TREAT. won a $50,000 grant from the Small Business Administration’s Growth Accelerator Fund.

The grant, part of $3 million in money the SBA gave to 60 recipients in 39 states and territories, will “amplify our ability to provide small businesses with opportunities and resources spanning the entire pathway of technology translation from research to development to bringing their products to market and to the people who need them,” said Richard Greenwald, co-director of TREAT.

TREAT is a National Institutes of Health-funded research affiliate that taps experts at Lebanon-based medical device maker Simbex — where Greenwald is CEO — and partners with The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice, Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering and University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Physical Therapy to help entrepreneurs bring their rehabilitative medical devices from the drawing board to market (with the exception of outside legal help, the Simbex and partner experts largely volunteer their time).

Comings and goings ...

Cleary Cleaners, the Rochester, N.H.-based dry cleaner that introduced a dry cleaning pickup and drop-off service at Jeff Peavey’s Country Cobbler shoe repair store on North Main Street in West Lebanon in the wake of longtime Upper Valley launderer Kleenshutting down, has discontinued service, Peavey reports.

But Peavey said he has another dry cleaner, E&R Laundry & Dry Cleaners of Manchester, stepping into the breach with the twice-weekly drop-off/pickup service.

“I want them to do it and they want to do it,” Peavey said of E&R, which also provides laundry and dry cleaning service to colleges and boarding schools throughout New England including Dartmouth College and Kimball Union Academy, as well as to the Lebanon police and fire departments.

The first pickup at Country Cobbler was last Thursday. Items are available the following Monday.

“Our phone rang off the hook when Kleen closed asking us to come to the Upper Valley, said Brian Floyd, director of sales and marketing at E&R. “And our driver lives in Lebanon, which makes it convenient for him.”

UniFirst Corp., which operates an industrial laundry facility on Etna Road in Lebanon that serves many businesses in the Upper Valley, said its Hygienically Clean Food Safety certification has been renewed by the Textile Rental Services Association, of Alexandria, Va.

UniFirst general manager Philip Breen, who was one of the first recruiters on hand at the Kleen plant in Lebanon to interview workers for new jobs hours after they learned the company closed in June, praised UniFirst employees and said the HCFS 3-year recertification — which verifies hygienic cleanliness of work garments through best management practices, quality assurance and third-party biological testing — “testifies to the skill and knowledge of the teams who execute the operations at our facility.”

I want to know your business! Reach me at jlippman@vnews.com.

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