Evaluating the Sponsor Program is No Easy Task

The sponsor program is the central component of the first-year experience at Pomona. It is intended to create an immediate, supportive group that can ease the transition to college life. Many students will say that the program has done just this, but others have taken issue with the system. Does the sponsor program encourage cultural assimilation, as some RAs and mentors have suggested? Does it create an atmosphere of superficial comfort that impedes critical dialogue, rather than encouraging it? Does it hinder the independence of students that might grow more from the laissez faire treatment of first-years at other colleges?

Last October, TSL ran a front-page article entitled “RAs, Mentors Raise Questions About Sponsor Program.” The article mentioned the creation of a working group for the evaluation and assessment of the sponsor program. Ric Townes, the Dean of Campus Life, has said that the group was created to systematically and methodically assess the effectiveness of the sponsor group, something not attempted in years past. Townes has said that, though the group has been meeting and planning this semester, the group will not begin its work until the fall.

The creation of such a group is an essential step toward a better understanding of the sponsor program’s effectiveness and tremendous impact on campus life. As soon as possible, the group should begin gathering empirical data, both quantitative and qualitative, in order to gauge student opinions on sponsor group experiences. This could include a variety of methods, such as surveys for all ingoing and outgoing first-years, sponsors, and RHS staff. The working group appears to be considering methods such as these.

The working group should consider expanding its scope. Though gauging the opinions of Pomona students is and should be of primary importance to the committee, this data will be inherently limited in its usefulness. All Pomona students will be speaking from the same perspective—that of a sponsor group member or former member—and it will be difficult to consider changes if no alternatives are considered.

For this reason, comparative studies with colleges that have similar programs will eventually be necessary if the sponsor program is to be evaluated effectively and completely. A standardized survey of first-year experiences at the other Claremont Colleges could also be useful. What is Pomona’s sponsor program doing for first-year students that other programs are not? In what ways does a Pomona first-year’s experience differ from that of a first-year at CMC? Are these unique aspects of the Pomona first-year experience contributing positively or negatively to the students, and to the school as a whole? We may not know until the sponsor program is evaluated in a systematic and comparative way.

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