In last week’s sports section of TSL, the author of “A Better Admissions Policy” argues that a developing trend of increased student-athlete acceptance has the potential to increase the academic and athletic achievement of the school. In support of this statement, he points to the fact that “our D-III athletes have higher GPA averages than the college as a whole.”
However, I would like to challenge some of these points regarding the so-called “better-ness” of this admissions policy. First, let’s check out the statistics regarding what the author calls “a developing trend of increased acceptance of more athletes in each class.” The class profiles on Pomona’s website indicate that the percentage of students involved in athletics in high school has remained constant—and at a fairly high rate—over the past four years. For the class of 2012: 63 percent; 2013: 64 percent; 2014: 64 percent; 2015: 64 percent. Considering the consistently high percentage of enrolled athletes, it seems the admissions office does “recognize the time commitment any sport necessitates.” “A Better Admissions Policy” implies that more student-athletes will lead to greater athletic success, arguing that “larger numbers of student athletes will [allow Pomona to] benefit from a better athletics program.” However, it seems that we have plenty of athletes to field all 21 of our athletic teams. Increased athletic success will not be achieved by raising the number of athletes—it would be achieved by recruiting and admitting better athletes. And that would be a problem.
As a transfer student from Middlebury, a liberal arts college that stands with Williams and Amherst as leaders in D-III athletics and academics, I think that recalibrating admissions to increase athletic success fundamentally changes the culture of the school. Although it is extremely difficult to generalize based on these two schools, I have found Pomona students to be more interested in learning for its own sake and not as a means to good grades or high-paying jobs. It saddened me that Middlebury functioned like a smaller Ivy League school, with students focused on high GPA averages more than learning. In analyzing the positive academic impact of increased admission of athletes and increased athletic success, the author of last week’s article focuses on “higher GPA averages,” “a rise in national rankings,” and an “environment of achievement.” To me, a liberal arts college should not aspire to these goals. Instead, it should, as Pomona’s mission statement indicates, cultivate an environment where “students are inspired to engage in the probing inquiry and creative learning that enable them to identify and address their intellectual passions.” Probing inquiry, creativity, intellectual passion—not high GPA averages.
Overvaluing athletics also becomes problematic for our goals as a liberal arts college in the same way that pointing Pomona toward high GPA averages and higher national rankings changes our culture. In “A Better Admissions Policy,” the author may accurately frame the National Honor Society (NHS) as an unimpressive extracurricular activity compared to the time commitment required for a varsity sport. But can we really agree with him when he writes that “a varsity sport is automatically more demanding than any other extracurricular activity”? For example, although I lack any artistic ability, I would be willing to bet that the high-level a cappella we heard at SCAMFest last Friday—and many other activities such as theater and dance—require a similar level of “dedication, motivation, perseverance, teamwork, and communication.” There are a lot of pretty freaking amazing people here at Pomona. Let’s not pretend that the non-athletes at Pomona are leading their application with NHS—that is inconsiderate. Rather, let us recognize and indeed cultivate the plurality of demanding extra-curricular activities that students at Pomona passionately pursue—including sports.
Don’t get me wrong. I would love it if the sports culture at Pomona were better. I would love to see athletic success and a more passionate (or even existent?) fan base for Sagehen athletics. But I am not sure if this “Better Admissions Policy” is the way to do it. I agree with the author when he writes that the intangible qualities of “dedication, motivation, perseverance, teamwork, and communication” should be valued in the admissions process over higher SAT scores or other measures of “increased intelligence.” But if we adhere to an admissions policy that purposefully admits better athletes as a means to academic or athletic “achievement,” then we will sacrifice a part of our identity which sets us apart from other institutions of higher education.