Pomona College Debates Student Population Growth

When Pomona College announced last May that the largest class of first-years ever would attend the college in August, many faculty members, staff members and students were caught by surprise. Yet the 450-student class may soon be the norm for Pomona: The college is considering increasing its total student population by 80, about 20 students per year over four years.

“We have an amazing education here, and we have lots of great applicants that we have to reject,” Pomona College President David Oxtoby said, “and if we could accept a few more of them, that, to me, is the main reason we would do this.”

The faculty had a chance to learn more about this possibility when Oxtoby spoke about the potential benefits of population growth at an open faculty forum Oct. 8. Seth Allen, vice president and dean of admissions and financial aid, gave a presentation Oct. 23 to the faculty about how population growth would affect the admissions process.

During the forum, Allen said that population growth would allow the admissions office more space to admit qualified students. However, he still anticipates making fewer admissions offers next year due to the high yield on admission offers for the class of 2018.

At the Oct. 23 forum, some faculty members asked whether the admissions office would be able to admit students based on academic interest to relieve pressure on certain departments already overwhelmed by large student interest.

“I told the faculty it is possible but would need to be approached thoughtfully,” Allen wrote in an email to TSL. He added that such a change would also require a change in recruitment practices “to ensure sufficient student interest by academic area in the applicant pool.”

Erica Flapan, Lingurn H. Burkhead Professor of Mathematics, said that there seem to be “too many students enrolling in the natural sciences and economics and not enough in the humanities.”

“If they really are able to somehow control who’s going to major in what, let’s see them do it now instead of growing the college,” Flapan said.

Oxtoby said that if the college decides to expand, the Curriculum Committee would determine which departments would require new faculty positions to meet demand from students.

However, Flapan pointed out that some departments have a limited potential for faculty growth due to physical resources such as labs or art studios. 

“The faculty who express concern express concern about the nature of the community we live in and to what extent we want to have a shared experience and know each other,” said David Menefee-Libey, a politics professor and the chair of the Executive Committee of the Faculty. “There is concern among a lot of faculty that there’s a point in scale when that becomes much more difficult.”

According to Menefee-Libey, the three divisions of the faculty—humanities and arts, natural sciences and math, and social sciences—held meetings Oct. 29 to discuss population growth and “figure out whether there is any set of converging ideas or questions” among the faculty.

“There are people who are not so sure, and there are people who are very much in favor,” said Pam Bromley, the acting director of college writing and an assistant professor of politics and international relations. “As the coordinator of the Writing Center, I think that if this is what’s going to happen, then there needs to be more support for the campus services in the form of financial support and administrative support for those centers.”

The college must also consider resources such as housing and dining halls when planning for population growth.

Ric Townes, the dean of campus life, said that the current housing capacity would be able to accommodate an increase in the student body, especially since the number of unoccupied beds increases throughout the semester. Furthermore, Pomona’s annual contract with Scripps College to house 23 Scripps students in Pomona’s Smiley Hall will end this year, according to Oxtoby.

To more efficiently use residence hall space, Pomona is trying to encourage students to study abroad during the fall semester. Typically, more students study abroad in the spring.

“We’re in the process of learning more about why there is an imbalance between fall and spring numbers in order to determine the best approach for creating a better balance,” Nicole Sheldon-Desjardins, the interim director of study abroad, wrote in an email to TSL. “In the meantime, we’ve been hosting general information sessions and reaching out to various student groups on campus to encourage students to start planning for study abroad a little earlier.”

Update: The lead of the article originally stated that Pomona College will increase student population by 200 students over the next 10 years. The article was updated Nov. 18 to correct this error

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