Pomona Faculty Debates Increasing Size of Student Body

Pomona College faculty weighed in on whether or not to increase the size of the student body at a forum in Frank Dining Hall’s Blue Room Tuesday. The forum was hosted by the Faculty Executive Committee, which holds a faculty forum roughly once a month to discuss timely and relevant issues.        

“The administration informed the faculty about a year ago that possible growth of the College is being considered,” Music Professor Eric Lindholm wrote in an e-mail to TSL. Lindholm is the chair of the committee.    

The topic has come up because the administration must provide the City of Claremont with an update of its master plan, which details projected land usage and student population, Lindholm wrote. Pomona updates the city approximately every ten years.    

“It is a natural time to ask the question, because the College has to be looking about ten years down the road and considering all of the possible directions it might go,” he wrote.    

The college is considering an increase of approximately 50 total students, or 12-15 in each year, Lindholm wrote. Pomona currently has an enrollment of approximately 1,560 students. 

According to data provided by Vice President of Planning Richard Fass, Pomona is one of only two top liberal arts colleges that have experienced little to no growth in enrollment over the past decade. The size of the student body at Smith College in Massachusetts has similarly remained consistent.    

“My impression is that the faculty are about equally split on the issue,” Lindholm wrote. “Most faculty see strong arguments on both sides, irrespective of how they personally weigh the pros and cons.” 

Lindholm said the issue is not a divisive one.    

Biology Professor Lenny Seligman said that he identifies with the “moral imperative argument,” which states that because the college is well-resourced, it has an obligation to provide as many students as possible an opportunity to benefit from a Pomona education.     

“We have the capacity. We certainly have more resources than other people, so we should do it,” Seligman said. “Even if we can help just twelve more kids have a great experience without diminishing what we give to other kids, then we ought to do it.”    

According to data provided by Fass, Pomona has a larger endowment per student than other liberal arts colleges. Pomona’s $954,201 endowment per student is almost 16 percent higher than second place Swarthmore College’s $824,590 per student.     

Some professors, however, are not so confident the college can handle the additional students, especially given current over-enrollment in popular departments.    

“I don’t find the argument that we have a moral imperative to share the Pomona experience with 50 more students convincing,” Mathematics Professor Erica Flapan wrote in an e-mail to TSL. Flapan opposes increasing the student body.    

“Increasing the student body by 50 students could have a negative impact on departments that are already heavily enrolled,” Flapan wrote. “It’s hard to predict the exact impact that 50 more students would have, so why risk it?”    

Seligman said that these additional students would only be a “drop in the bucket” to already over-stressed, large departments.    

“We add 12 students, we’re not going to have 12 Intro Bio kids. We’ll have four or five,” said Seligman, who is the Biology Department chair. “Our Intro Bio enrollments right now can be anywhere from 150 to 170 in a semester. [Five additional students] is three percent. It’s almost nothing.”    

“I think whether or not we add 12 more kids, we need to fix the problems of over-enrolled classes and departments right now,” Seligman said. “But that’s a separate discussion.” 

Seligman said that the college should first decide whether it could handle additional students, and only then decide how to go about selecting those additional students.    

Both Seligman and Flapan suggested that if Pomona does decide to enroll additional students, accepting additional transfer students could be an ideal approach.    

“We could carefully choose them to be in fields that are currently underrepresented among the majors at Pomona,” Flapan wrote. In doing so, she wrote, the school would be able to avoid exacerbating existing over-enrollment.    

Lindholm wrote that no official timetable for increasing enrollment currently exists, as the topic is still being discussed.    

“The administration will probably make a decision sometime next fall,” he wrote.

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