Students Assess Priorities as Pomona Looks to Slash Budget

The Associated Students of Pomona College conducted a survey on proposed budget cuts last month that drew responses from over 800 students.

Student leaders and administrators say the opinions of students will be taken into consideration by a committee tasked with recommending possibly steep spending cuts within the Office of Student Affairs.

The survey was written and distributed by ASPC President Eliza Finley PO ’09, ASPC Vice President for Finance Ian Kwok PO ’09, and Pomona Dean of Students Miriam Feldblum.

According to Finley, the survey was sent to the entire student body by e-mail in order to gauge what students valued in terms of Student Affairs Office budget cuts because these cuts would affect Pomona students’ day-to-day activities the most.

“Students are the largest stakeholders in decisions made in this arena, so of course, our voices should be heard,” said Finley.

Karen Sisson PO ’79, Pomona’s treasurer and chair of the college’s Budget Planning Advisory Committee, said that the survey gave administrators a sense of students’ academic, residential, and community priorities.

“The survey has provided important feedback and input on how students view different elements of their Pomona experience,” said Sisson. “All of us realize that the survey reflects the opinions of only those students who participated, but it is still a valuable tool for getting broader student input.”

Sisson said she hopes her committee will be able to come up with a series of recommendations by the end of April that President David Oxtoby and his executive team will consider as they work to complete the budget for the 2009-2010 school year.

Oxtoby will ultimately be submitting the college’s budget to the Board of Trustees in May, and Sisson said that he is committed to using input from the budget committee in making his decisions.

The ASPC survey found that the work-study program and Summer Undergraduate Research Program grants were most important to students, with 43 percent and 26 percent of respondents, respectively, ranking these programs as their highest priority.

“I ranked SURPs as a high priority because I believe it’s very important that at a liberal-arts college like Pomona we’re able to do our own undergraduate research projects, which we would be unable to do at other bigger schools,” said Ben Yarbrough PO ’11.

Slightly more than half of the survey takers receive financial aid, but all students equally valued the work-study program, according to Finley.

“I think that SURPs and on-campus jobs are important because we’re here so we can prepare ourselves to work in the future and these programs are major stepping-stones for that,” said Sarah Higley PO ’11. “The most practical things you learn in college, you learn through internships and jobs.”

Obtaining funding from the Pomona College Internship Program remained a high priority for students, with 30 percent of students ranking funding for the program as their second-highest priority.

More than half of respondents rated owning a hard copy of the Pomona College Handbook their lowest priority. Attending Chocolate for Change and paying $30, as opposed to a proposed $60, for a parking permit were also low priorities for students. However, fewer than a third of the respondents said they have cars on campus.

The survey found that co-curricular funding, which includes highly subsidized trips and conferences, and Orientation Adventure trips for first-year students outside of the Southern California region were important, but were not students’ top priority.

Two-thirds of students said they would prefer one day of snack to be cut each week rather than change the quality or quantity of food offered at snack. Half preferred that Thursday night snack be cut while under a fifth said they would prefer Sunday night snack to be cut.

When asked what changes to the “to-go” meals should be made, the majority of students said that a 50-cent charge for a “to-go” container would be the most preferable choice. Two-thirds of students said that the least preferable change would be offering a vegetarian and meat option of pre-prepared “to-go” meals.

Finley said that the high rate of responses and the plethora of comments that students left on their surveys made the survey an especially useful tool for ASPC in discussing budget cuts with the administration.

“I thought the survey was incredibly useful, mostly because so much of the student body actually responded,” said Finley. “We knew that students valued academic and career development opportunities, but now we’re able to approach the administration with somewhat of a mandate.”

Reductions for the next fiscal year are likely to include a 10 percent reduction in the Student Affairs overall operating budget, according to Feldblum. While no final decisions have been made, Feldblum said, “The survey confirmed the consensus within student affairs to eliminate or greatly modify programs like Chocolate for Change and to reduce some of the other co-curricular programs and funding while trying to keep what is most important to students and their experience here at Pomona.”

She added that the survey suggested Pomona should continue to look at ways to modify Orientation Adventure trips, the student-led excursions during first-year orientation.

“I think the survey was very useful and very important,” Feldblum said. “The committee took into account the priorities that students gave to different kinds of programs, and in fact, thought that the ASPC decision to have students rank the different items was a very good exercise.”

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