On May 6, the Pomona College student body received
an email from Vice President and Dean of Admissions and
Financial Aid Seth Allen that projected the size of the incoming class of 2018.
According to the email, the offers of admission for this class had been met
with such “unprecedented enthusiasm” that, despite the record-low 12.2 percent acceptance rate, the college “anticipated welcoming 450 new first-years to
Pomona” as opposed to the 397 students who had enrolled in the class of 2017.
The causes of the unanticipated admissions yield for the first-year class remain mysterious. Interim Associate Dean of Admissions Joel Hart said that the incoming class size “was certainly unexpected.”
“Historically, the yield
of students has been around 40 percent, and then this year it was almost 50 percent,” Hart said. “When
you’re dealing with a class that is relatively small, that kind of increase
shakes things up.”
For a college that in 2012 hosted only 1,550
students, this 13 percent increase in incoming first-years created
challenges for both the administration and the existing student body.
For Senior Associate Dean and Director of Housing and
Operations Frank Bedoya and the Office of Campus Life (OCL), the influx of students
left them with a particular problem as Pomona guarantees housing for all four
years. The result was a rearrangement of the current housing assignments.
Many sophomores, especially, were displaced in the rush
to accommodate the housing demands of an expanded student population. This
year, for example, first-years live in the Harwood Patios, rooms that have
traditionally been occupied by sophomores, leaving some students upset.
Particularly vocal were many of those in Oldenborg who, thanks to their desirable room draw numbers, had been able to choose one of the seven luxurious, three-room doubles.
“I received an email right at the end of July,” Oldenborg resident Matt Dahl PO ’17 said. “To keep freshmen on South Campus … the
administration had to displace deferred students into Oldenborg. And my room
was chosen to be converted into a double.”
Although Matt conceded that “it is perfectly
reasonable for that to happen,” he said that the administration informed
residents of their decision only at the end of the summer and did not involve the students in the conversation.
Asked how the response to the housing shortage could
have been improved, Bedoya said that “the timing of the notifications could
have been better.”
“We wanted to make sure that we had as much information as
possible when we sent out the notification to students,” he said.
Bedoya pointed out, however, that by the end of the
summer, OCL had created an additional 30 bed spaces and kept
sponsors and resident advisers in singles. And after nine students voluntarily chose off-campus housing, with a $500 incentive by the college, the administration
“didn’t have to place anyone off campus or on another campus who didn’t want to
be there,” Bedoya said.
“While not everyone was satisfied with their housing, I appreciate the students’ willingness and understanding to work with us through the challenges of the increased class size,” he said.
Housing arrangements may continue to change in future years.
“One thing we are certain about is that Pomona has already notified Scripps that we will no longer be able to accommodate Scripps students,” Bedoya said, referring to the annual contract to house 23 Scripps College students in Pomona’s Smiley Hall.
Sponsor groups, a fundamental part of the Pomona first-year experience, were also affected by the large size of the first-year class. Head Sponsor Nathalie Folkerts PO ’15 wrote in an email to TSL that there are 33 sponsor groups this year, two more than last year.
“I think that sponsor groups are always difficult to create; sure, this year we had about 50 more housing forms to read, but other than that the process was pretty similar,” Folkerts wrote.
To have enough sponsors to cover the two additional sponsor groups, some sponsors’ trios were broken up.
“But we had also originally created more trios than we had in past years, so the number of trios that we had ended up being pretty similar as last year,” Folkerts wrote.
Audrey DePaepe PO ’18 said that her first weeks at Pomona have been a positive experience. Although she has heard that getting into classes
may have been a bit tougher this year, she thinks that “Pomona does a good job
getting people where they need to go.”
Pomona’s ID1 writing seminars for first-years have been able to accommodate the larger class. Acting
Director of College Writing Pam Bromley said that there are 32 ID1 sections this
year, compared to the 31 sections last year. The 15-student size cap remained the same for all sections.
“I think their happiness [in] placement was just as good
as it has been in the past in terms of percentages of students in their top
choices,” Bromley said.
However, the unprecedented size of the first-year
class may strain some school resources, such as the Writing
Center. Fifty percent of the students who visited the center last year were first-years.
“We have the same number of hours available in the
writing center, 95, as we had last year,” Bromley said. “But we have 50 more students. If you just look at the scheduler, it’s really booked. And it’s usually booked, but last year, we had 80 percent of the appointments booked in the fall on average.”
Bromley said that this makes it difficult for
students to sign up for appointments at the last minute, forcing more students than
usual to come during drop-in hours. Bromley also expressed concern about certain busy
times of the year, like Thanksgiving Break and the end of the semester, when a large number of papers are due.
Only time will tell, however, whether the Writing Center, or any of Pomona’s other campus services, will be seriously impacted by the larger class.
“We don’t have the data so far, but to me the Writing Center looks busier,” Bromley said. “And it may be that it’s fine, but I worry a little bit.”