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Coffee with Dartmouth President Kim

Dartmouth President Jim Yong Kim visited the Post's editorial offices Wednesday.

He was here to discuss health care reform -- more specifically, the leadership role he believes universities should play in actually reforming health care, as in delivering it at higher quality, at lower cost, with fewer mistakes.

It's an area called health care delivery science, and Kim believes it will be a vitally important field, say, 20 or 30 years from now. At present, it's a neglected discipline. Dartmouth is starting a degree program in health care delivery, and he hopes the nation one day gets behind the endeavor in the same spirit with which it tackled AIDS and cancer research.

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"We think this is the new field," he said.

Kim, a physician and humanitarian of international stature, became Dartmouth president last July. His previous employers include Harvard Medical School and the World Health Organization. He was named one of TIME magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World" in 2006.

Dartmouth, in Hanover, N.H., is a bona fide member of the Ivy League and is ranked the 11th-best national university in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. Its admissions rate is 13.5 percent.

Dartmouth made headlines this winter by dropping its policy of meeting the full financial need of students without loans. The school moved a week after Williams College dropped its no-loan policy.

The economic downturn diminished Dartmouth's $3.7 billion endowment to a $2.8 billion.

"Everyone's rethinking everything," Kim said. He alluded to a recent meeting of presidents of elite colleges (this group, perhaps?) and said he was "really shocked to hear them argue about what the minimum number of students was you need to have a viable operation."

Could some of the nation's top colleges be worried about viability?

At a minimum, this could be the beginning of the end of "full need" policies, at least among smaller colleges. A wave of highly selective, well endowed colleges, including Dartmouth, adopted bold aid formulas in the last few years, when their endowments were rising, pledging to meet the full financial need of admitted students through grant aid alone.

Dartmouth had been meeting student need without loans for families earning as much as $200,000, a pledge that affects families in the comfortable middle class. New rules promise grant aid only to those earning $75,000 or less per year. There is still a cap on loans of $5,500 a year.

"We stopped it. We had to," he said.

"Right now, tuition at Dartmouth College is about $52,000 a year, but it costs about $100,000 to educate them," Kim said. Factor in grant aid, and that leaves a deficit of $60,000 to $70,000 per student that Dartmouth must fill somehow.

"The basic question going forward is, how can we continue to spend $100,000 for every student," he said.

Harvard, Yale and Princeton are larger colleges with much larger endowments. Those schools can probably continue to meet full need with grant dollars, even though their endowments have been hit harder than Dartmouth's, Kim said.

"For us, it was a big part of our budget," he said. "It was a smaller part for Harvard, Yale and Princeton."

The wave of aid pledges arose from concern that the Ivies were missing out on middle-class Americans because of high tuition, Kim said. He doesn't believe, though, that Dartmouth's demographics will change significantly with a bit of loan debt added to the mix.

It may even be sensible to make most students pay at least some share of their college costs. They might take their studies more seriously, he said, knowing they "have some skin in the game."

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By Daniel de Vise  |  March 25, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Access , Administration , Admissions , Aid , Finance , Rankings  | Tags: Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton, Yale, financial aid, student aid  
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