The Study Abroad Committee (SAC) at Pomona received 23 petitions last week for non-Pomona study abroad programs in spring 2012. This is the highest number of petitions according to records kept by the Office of Study Abroad (OSA). Out of the 23 petitions it received, the committee gave the nod to fewer than half the applicants—only 11 petitions were approved. As a percentage of total applications, this year sees the most denials that the SAC has handed out in the last ten years.
Some students expressed disappointment with the SAC’s decisions.
“I am very disappointed in the Study Abroad Committee’s decision to reject my program,” said Ariel Vourman PO ’13, who petitioned to study abroad in Tel Aviv, Israel. “Not only was my program very well known and respected, but it also used to be Pomona’s approved Israel program years ago,” he said.
“I do not see why the administration places a limit on the number of students who can go on non-Pomona programs, nor do I like the secretive deliberation process that the committee uses to approve or reject the applicants,” he added.
The average number of petitions for non-Pomona study abroad programs over the last ten years has been about 13 per semester, according to OSA Director Rhoda Borcherding. Borcherding said that the SAC, which is composed of seven faculty members, two students, and herself, sets a guideline of non-Pomona petitions to approve each semester at ten, a number that was established years ago when the total number of students studying abroad at Pomona was smaller. In recent years, however, an average of 200 Pomona students have studied abroad each year and the guideline has remained unchanged.
At Pitzer College’s Study Abroad office, Director of Pitzer Programs and Intercultural Education Michael Donahue reported a similar situation. Due to its relatively small endowment compared to Pomona, Pitzer has an outright “cap” on the number of students that may go on non-Pitzer programs, since most non-Pitzer programs are more expensive than Pitzer-approved programs. Last year the Dean of Faculty and the Office of the Treasurer set the limit at seven students, which Donahue said can result in some students with strong applications being turned away.
Donahue, himself a Pomona alumnus, said that Pomona’s OSA probably placed more emphasis on program strength than financial restrictions. “Rhoda is very conscientious about the quality of programs students go on,” he said.
Nicola Lew PO ’13, a neuroscience major from Singapore, was among the students whose petitions were denied. Lew had hoped to participate in the International Honors Program’s public health program that would have taken her to four countries around the world. Since the program is not approved or sponsored by Pomona, Lew had to petition to apply for the program.
Lew speculated that her petition was denied because of the nature of the program for which she wanted to apply. She was interested in the academic challenge that studying in four countries would present, but recognized that the SAC prefers programs in which students study in one country for a longer period of time so as to become fully immersed in that country’s culture.
“It’s emotionally difficult to see students upset by the decisions of the committee,” Borcherding said, adding that she chooses not to vote on the committee so as to avoid a conflict of interest between advising students and voting on their petitions.
According to OSA Assistant Director Christopher Bettera, one of the main reasons the OSA encourages students to apply for a Pomona-approved program is that the OSA has already verified the quality of those programs.When asked if money was one of the reasons that so many non-Pomona program petitions were denied, Borscherding said that it was not.