Dear Pomona College Community:
We write at a time of renewed crisis, with the coronavirus continuing to spread rapidly both in our region and in much of the nation. Case numbers nationwide are reaching new highs, and California on Monday reported a 50 percent increase in hospitalizations over the past two weeks. The hoped-for summer slowdown in virus spread has simply not materialized, and our nation’s leading public health officials now warn that the situation is headed in the wrong direction.
In Los Angeles County, the Department of Public Health on Monday warned of a surge in cases among people between the ages of 18 and 40, with patients in that group now accounting for a quarter of all hospitalizations, up from just over 10 percent in April. Here in the nation’s most populous county, the virus is taking off among young people, who account for half of the new cases, and the numbers bring growing concerns about more spread to the most vulnerable.
When spring semester ended, we pressed forward to explore every responsible option for returning students to campus for fall. As California began to “flatten the curve,” it was our expectation and strong desire to be able to resume in-person education, with extensive planning underway to ensure full health and safety measures were in place. As the public health situation deteriorated over the last two weeks, we had to look at the facts and make a responsible decision:
In this unfolding emergency, we will not be able to bring students back to campus in the fall.
Instead, we are channeling our energy and resources into:
- Strengthening and refining our remote education
- Taking steps to support students in challenging situations, promote educational equity and reduce financial strains
- Preparing the campus for the more realistic possibility of at least some students returning to Pomona for spring semester
This situation is not what we hoped for. On-campus, in-person education is central to our liberal arts mission. The reality is that if we had brought students back for fall, it would be under such restricted conditions that campus life would bear little resemblance to the community we cherish: No public gatherings or performances, no face-to-face meetings between students and professors, no orientation trips—the list of “no’s” would be extensive.
In choosing to hold off on returning to campus, we acknowledge our shared humanity and the necessity of intellectual honesty. The decision follows long discussions with faculty and trustees, as well as dialogue with student leaders. The Board of Trustees met twice in the last two weeks to gain a full understanding of the considerations involved, and this week voted unanimously to endorse the decision. Along the way, we have worked with the leaders of The Claremont Colleges to ensure that students will continue to be able to cross-register and learn together in this online environment.
Now that we’ve set on a course, we will adapt and push forward with our vital educational mission, rising to the challenge in the same way generations of Sagehens have done before us. For those of you who are new to Pomona: we welcome you, we know you will bring much to our community and we are here to help you navigate this unusual situation we are going through together.
For international students, we recognize the complications brought on by Monday’s announcement by ICE modifying temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online courses during fall 2020 semester. We will be reaching out to students and offering updates in coming days.
(See our sets of FAQs covering key topics.)
Teaching and Learning in a Pandemic
After a spring semester in which courses designed for the classroom had to be reinvented on the fly for remote instruction, faculty in all disciplines are hard at work rethinking and redesigning their fall courses from the bottom up.
Faculty members are stepping back and taking advantage of a range of offerings, including weeklong workshops on effective online teaching, technology sessions focusing on helpful online tools and individualized consultations. They are using these resources to revamp their course plans and hone their skills in using online instructional tools to provide their students with more of the intense engagement everyone expects from the Pomona experience.
Just a few examples: Professor of Environmental Analysis Marc Los Huertos is one of a number of faculty members developing a mix of synchronous and asynchronous resources that will permit students to engage on their own schedules. Professor of Music Genevieve Lee and others in the department are working with ITS to provide their students with microphones, WiFi hubs and additional technologies to improve the audio experience on Zoom. Professor of Physics Janice Hudgings is busy reinventing her Modern Physics laboratory to permit students to develop their own experiments using everyday objects.
We will adapt and innovate for this moment.
The faculty’s goal is not only to deliver Pomona-level excellence during the temporary interruption of in-person teaching. It is also to use this time to incorporate new technologies in ways that will enhance their students’ educational experience even after they return to the in-person classes we value so much.
Supporting Students and Promoting Educational Equity
We recognize that moving to remote instruction brings additional hardships for some students. With this in mind, we will:
- Provide financial aid to eligible students to cover their off-campus cost of attendance, including for housing and food, based on average expenses for off-campus living. (The average is determined by surveying students living off campus, along with data from housing surveys for students in California and across the U.S.) Students with specific needs or questions should work with their financial aid counselor, as individual circumstances vary.
- Convert a portion of the fall student employment allotment into grants for students with the greatest financial need;
- Provide loaner laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots to both returning and new students who request assistance.
For students on financial aid, Pomona has replaced the minimum student contribution ($1,900 to $2,200) typically earned through summer work, with a scholarship for the 2020-21 academic school year as additional support.
A range of campus offices will hire student workers to work remotely. Beginning Aug. 10, students may apply for jobs via Handshake software hosted by the Career Development Office (CDO). New students will be able to access training information for Handshake in early August so that they will be knowledgeable about the software prior to the recruiting period.
Many families will see a sizeable drop in costs through the elimination of room and board charges for the semester ahead.
In addition, the 3.5 percent tuition increase set before the pandemic has been reversed and tuition is now frozen at 2019-20 levels, as decided by the Board of Trustees in May.
Our Shared Future
Moving to a fully online semester brings financial challenges for the College, with the loss of room and board revenue being the largest factor. Based on our most recent financial models, Pomona could see an annual budget shortfall ranging from $21 million to $35 million depending on final enrollment.
While the College is in strong financial standing and we have ways to start to make up these shortfalls, there will be some very difficult tradeoffs ahead. Pomona is fortunate to have a generous endowment, but it is fully committed. Tapping into our endowment, as some have suggested, would come at the expense of future students and diminish our commitment to inter-generational equity.
We will need to make deep reductions to the budgets of departments and offices, defer maintenance and renovation of our facilities, and make wide use of our unrestricted reserves, among other means.
At the same time, the College will continue to invest in making the campus ready to receive students, faculty and staff down the road. The plans we developed to prepare the campus for fall—upgrading air filtering systems, installing plastic barriers and automatic doors openers, among many other measures—will still be carried out, and during the semester ahead, we will carefully evaluate the experiences of other institutions. We recognize that even when the pandemic danger starts to recede, students will likely need to return at a time when there is still some risk from the virus, and we want to take responsible steps to allow for a sustainable return.
Beyond the physical campus, we will continue to build our extended global community in new ways. During this crisis, we have seen Sagehens who attended in previous generations reach out to hire those who have recently graduated. We have seen Sagehens of all generations give to support our COVID-19 relief funds. We have seen a true outpouring of care and support.
In the semester ahead, new remote events will connect our community by regions and interests, bringing generations of Sagehens together. We will stay connected to one another and care for one another. We will press on to confront the grand challenges and apply our dynamic liberal arts education to help solve the world’s most daunting problems.
Let us not forget: Over more than 130 years, the Pomona College community has faced times of trial, from the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-19 to World War II to the political and social turmoil of the 1960s. This coronavirus pandemic may be our greatest challenge in a century—and we will meet it together.
We ask all of you, whether you are entering with the Class of 2024 or are a graduate of the Class of 1954, whether as a student, parent, staff or faculty member, to join us with confidence on the journey to a better future during this anxious moment. We will continue to offer more detailed information in our updated FAQs as we move forward. We are committed to every member of our community, and we are grateful for your engagement, caring, patience and flexibility in meeting the challenge of our time.
G. Gabrielle Starr, president
Samuel D. Glick ’04, chair, Board of Trustees