Retreat Focuses on Liberal Arts

More than 25 trustees and 120 students participated in the 15th annual Pomona College Trustee-Student Retreat, held in the Hahn Building Oct. 5. The retreat was the largest in the college’s history.

The theme for this year’s retreat, “Liberal Arts,” was determined by the Associated Students of Pomona College (ASPC) Senate, the Dean of Students office, President David Oxtoby, and the Career Development Office (CDO). 

The event focused mostly on the financial value of a liberal arts degree, and how the academic credentials obtained with a liberal arts degree can be used in today’s economy.

“What we picked as a theme for this year was how the liberal arts education still has value in a world that is really focusing on the economy and jobs, and if we’re going to be able to get jobs once we graduate,” Junior Class President Don Swan PO ’15 said.

After Vice President and Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum gave an introduction to the retreat, ASPC President Darrell Jones III PO ’14, Vice President for Finance Eric Martinez PO ’14, and Senior Class President Emma Wolfarth PO ’14 gave a presentation that showed comparisons between Pomona and peer colleges and Ivy League schools such as general education (GE) requirements. 

Their results showed that Pomona has fewer GE requirements than peer schools. Except for Amherst College and Brown University, which only require 1 writing course, all colleges surveyed required several more courses in several categories of study. Swarthmore College requires four more courses than Pomona, Yale College three more, and Williams College and Carleton College two more, for instance. 

Pomona students also spend more time socializing with friends, according to a Consortium on Financing Higher Education study cited in the presentation. Only 26 percent of Pomona students spend 0 to 5 hours a week socializing with friends, compared to 34 percent of Ivy League students and 32 percent of students at all surveyed coeducational colleges. On the contrary, 32 percent of Pomona students spend 11 to 20 hours a week socializing, compared to 28 percent of Ivy League students and 27 percent of all coeducational college students. 

Students and trustees then broke into focus groups to discuss Pomona’s future and improvements that the college could make.

“In suggesting what a model liberal arts education might entail, most groups of students and trustees mentioned community engagement,” Maria Tucker, Director of the Draper Center for Community Partnerships, said. “The college has focused on institutionalizing community engagement, especially since 2009, so it’s heartening to see that students as well as trustees also truly understand the important educational role of working with surrounding communities.”

Feldblum said that students reacted positively to the retreat.

“Students were enthusiastic to talk about the liberal arts—that it is a critical topic for students, especially in terms of conveying the value of the liberal arts education to those outside of Pomona,” she said.

Despite the involvement of the CDO and the focus on careers, Swan said that the event did not encourage pre-professionalism or specific paths of study. 

“It wasn’t like, ‘What kind of resume-building skills can we give philosophy majors?’, but it was more like giving the liberal arts education more of a label in the jobs market,” Swan said.

Feldblum emphasized the variety of paths to which different majors can lead by beginning the retreat with an exercise in which participants guessed the majors of famous Pomona alumni.

“The liberal arts is so much more than your major,” Feldblum said.

While possible goals for the college were discussed in focus groups, no direct changes were proposed, Wolfarth said.

“It is my understanding that these retreats are not designed to create anything tangible or decide any policy,” she said. “The point is to bring the two parts of the community together.”

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