Back in her home country of Ghana, Sandra Ofori '13 faced a choice—on the freedom to choose.
"In Ghana, when you start university, you have to know exactly what your major will be, and I had no idea of what I wanted to do," she says. Students begin specializing in high school; those who study general subjects, for instance, cannot take sciences in college. Ofori wanted to explore different directions. So she enrolled at Pomona.
Campaign Pomona: Daring Minds has made one of its goals attracting and supporting international students such as Ofori, who will graduate this year as a mathematical economics major. The benefits of increasing the international presence at Pomona are many.
"Any opportunity that we can create for students from different backgrounds and nationalities to coexist in a positive atmosphere can only lead to better things later on," explains David Brunk, the College's associate dean of admissions. "Not only for the international students who then go home, but also for students from Kansas, who may have never met someone from China or Greece or Ghana."
Pomona stepped up its international recruiting efforts about seven years ago. For its Class of 2008, the College enrolled nine international students. This past fall, it welcomed 40. The more than fourfold increase was accompanied by an increased number of students receiving financial aid; currently, more than a third of international students are being helped.
To recruit students in Europe and Asia, representatives from Pomona visit individual schools that have histories of sending students abroad. Pomona officials have been unable to visit Africa and South America, but have instead relied on growing relationships with individual schools in those countries as well. Outside organizations such as Education USA also have helped put the word out.
In the internet age, there might not seem to be a need to expend effort informing international students about Pomona. But for some of those students, such as Robert Kipkemoi Langat '16, the internet can be five miles away—the distance of the closest trading center from his family's farm in Kenya.
Langat suffered from the disadvantages of attending a poorly-funded school. "The school doesn't have a library, or any laboratory. Studies are often disrupted because students are sent home to collect money, because the school says there is not enough money to keep the school open."
He learned about Pomona through another outside organization, the Kenya Scholar-Athlete Project, which targets gifted, needy students. Pomona is paying the full cost of attendance for Langat.
"We're not need-blind for internationals, very few schools are," Brunk says. "But even the schools that offer aid for international students make up a pretty short list. That helps us right away."
Increasing the money for international aid allows Pomona to diversify students' socioeconomic status, Brunk says.
"Within a place like China, where we have a very large applicant pool, it would be very easy for us to admit and enroll only no-need students," he says. "But that cuts against the whole philosophy of having international students here because if we did that, all of our students at Pomona would think that everyone in China is fabulously wealthy."
Yiting Ji '15 is not fabulously wealthy, although many of the students at the ultra-competitive Nanjing school she attended were from what she terms "good backgrounds"—they didn't need financial aid from the other U.S. colleges they attend.
She had steeled herself for negative results in her own college applications: "When they see international students apply, and they see you applied for a lot of scholarship, it's very likely they'll just reject you." But her aid award from Pomona helped cement her decision to attend. "I wasn't expecting Pomona to be that generous."
The financial aid, however, is only part of the incentive. All three students say they chose Pomona because of the intimate liberal arts experience the College provides.
"I wanted a smaller school," says Ofori, who is receiving her aid from the Fred Vogelstein '85 and Evelyn Nussenbaum '84 Scholarship Fund, which specifically targets international students.
"My brother went to University of Delaware, so I had these two experiences to compare. I really liked the small class sizes and the opportunity to develop close relationships with professors, which my brother seemed not to have had."
The type of education Pomona provides is not only different from large research universities, it is practically unavailable elsewhere around the world, Brunk says: "Liberal arts is such a peculiarly American institution."
"I think it really helps them get a different set of thinking skills and communication skills that will really help them when they go back to their country to do whatever it is they want to do," he says.