State of the College, Fall 2009

To the Pitzer College Community:

Every fall I speak with you about the state of Pitzer College, a summary of the prior year at the institution.

During 2008-2009 there was enormous upheaval due to the global economic crisis and recession. This was my seventh year at the College, and we experienced record enrollments, record retention, and, unfortunately, record endowment losses.

Budget and Endowment Return

While there had been warning signs since the winter of 2008 when the nation’s largest job cut in five years took place, by summer of 2008, the financial markets had increasingly become a topic for discussion and it was clear that a dramatic shift in the economy was underway. After consulting with our treasurer Yuet Lee, in October I asked the members of the president’s cabinet to reduce their budgets by 5% in order to achieve a permanent overall budget reduction of 5% for the 2009-10 year. We were the first college in the consortium to make such an adjustment to their institutional budget. The members of the cabinet recognized the seriousness of the situation and worked positively and collaboratively to achieve this budget reallocation. Thanks to the exhaustive efforts of Yuet and Lori Yoshino and in consultation with the College’s Budget Implementation Committee (BIC), the Trustee Budget Committee and the Board, a budget plan was approved in May 2009. The end result leaves the College well positioned to emerge from this recession with its academic program strong, workforce intact, financial aid preserved, and the corpus of the endowment protected.

Highlights include the following:
Pitzer ended the year with a $2.9 million surplus to use in 2009-2010 to offset the loss of $4.7 million of endowment spending; this leaves the College with the challenge of finding $1.8 million within its existing operating budget while still balancing the 2009-2010 budget without endowment spending. Tuition increased 3.9%, the lowest increase in nine years and well below the national projection for private colleges of 4.2%; the five-year tactical plan priorities have been completed at 100% or greater; non-compensation costs have been reduced to protect the workforce.

There were no faculty or staff layoffs, with modest salary increases for faculty (.75%) and staff (1%). The increase in faculty salaries anticipates that assistant and associate professors will remain positioned within AAUP’s 95th percentile, and full professors within 95% of the 95th percentile. Staff salary increases also maintain our position within our wage and salary program. Pitzer’s staff are represented by 62% women and 50% persons of color with 64% women and 36% persons of color at the administrative level. Pitzer’s end-of-the-year results were at variance with other colleges in the consortium where there were significant layoffs and voluntary early retirements for exempt and nonexempt staff.

For 2008-2009, tuition and fees covered approximately 81% of the actual cost of education per student at Pitzer. However, for 2009-2010 tuition and fees will cover approximately 90% because endowment spending has been eliminated and there has been a decrease in our short-term investment earnings.

The recessionary market and the decrease in new construction starts worked to the College’s advantage when it came to negotiating the conclusion of our residence life project with Bayley Construction. Because we had signed a guaranteed maximum contract and withheld our final payment until the final cost could be settled, Bayley agreed to negotiate in good faith. The end result was that the project negotiation was completed with the outcome decidedly favorable for the College. The goal from the outset was to keep the total cost for the residence life and learning project under $30 million. In the end the total project cost was $29,897,360, and Bayley generously agreed to make a contribution to Pitzer for $1,175,000.

While the financial condition of the College has certainly strengthened over the past seven years, this was a very disappointing year for our investment return. As of June 30, 2009, preliminary year to date returns were -23%. The national average was -27%. Our three-year average return is -4% and our five-year average return is 2% (placing us 8th in Claremont). As of June 30, total endowment investments were $77,400,000 (down from a high of $108 million). Despite this decrease and in these difficult times Pitzer was pleased to see an affirmation of our success by external rating agencies Fitch and Moodys. Moodys has reaffirmed our A3 rating, but has moved us from a stable outlook to positive. Fitch’s rating is a straight A, which is approximately equal to a Moodys A2 rating. Both ratings are due in large part to our strong recent trends in financial results, recruitment and enrollment.


Obviously fundraising in the midst of a recession has its challenges. In the 2008-2009 year, private consumption fell dramatically, home values plunged, financial portfolios were decimated and unemployment was on the rise. Thanks to the constant efforts of Vice President Dennis Trotter and his dedicated staff, the total amount raised as of June 30, 2009 was nearly $7,000,000. Pitzer also won the senior gift competition for the fourth year in a row with a 100% giving rate with a total of $14,600 raised. Faculty and staff participation was 89%, with a total of $29,778. Over the last seven years, total contributions to the Annual Fund have increased by 23%. Parent participation rates to the Annual Fund have increased from 20% to 31%.

Alumni Reunion Weekend was successful this year with record attendance. The total number who attended was 205, a 20% increase from last year. Colleges approximately Pitzer’s size have reported reunion attendance decreases due to the economy so the increase was a welcome sign. The reunion was held in conjunction with Claremont McKenna College and the Sunday morning two-college breakfast was well attended. The majority of our alumni elected to stay in our new green residence halls.

Dean of Faculty and Dean of Students

The Office of the Dean of Faculty had a busy year. Over the past seven years, the College has seen a generation of faculty retire and the faculty-student ratio reduced. In the period since 2001-02 through the end of the current academic year 2009-10, Pitzer will have hired twenty-five new tenure track faculty. Six of these hires represent new lines at the College and nineteen of these hires represent replacement of existing lines. For the academic year 2009-10, Pitzer has seventy-two faculty members (sixty-six tenure track faculty and six Joint Sciences faculty). New faculty hired in the last nine years represent 35% of the current Pitzer faculty (including Joint Science). As of fall 2009, 46% of our faculty is female and 34% are people of color. To the best of our knowledge, Pitzer College has the most diverse faculty of any liberal arts college in the country. In the 2008-09 academic year we successfully undertook five tenure track searches and in the fall of 2009 we welcomed our newest professors, all of whom are our first choice selections: in African history Harmony O’Rourke from Harvard University (new position); in clinical psychology KaMala Thomas from San Diego State University (replacement for Rick Tsjujimoto); in economics Fuchun Jin from Ohio State University (replacement for Jim Lehman); in comparative or non-Western philosophy Ahmed Alwishah from UCLA (new position); and in sociology Azamat Junisbai from Indiana University (replacement for Peter Nardi). Faculty searches for 2009 – 10 will be: classics (replace Steve Glass), political studies (replace Tom Ilgen), dual position of EWL/writing center director (new position).

In 2008-2009, 72% of Pitzer’s Class of 2009 studied abroad, as compared to just under 2% nationally. Students attended forty-one programs in twenty-seven countries, studying fifteen languages. Of these 150 students, ninety attended semester-long Pitzer programs, eleven attended non-Pitzer programs and forty-nine attended exchange programs with 126 international students attending Pitzer during the academic year. An additional twenty-eight students attended Pitzer summer programs in Costa Rica and Japan and six students participated in international summer research programs. In 2008-09, to date fourteen Fulbright Fellowships have been awarded, continuing Pitzer’s seven year national record per capita among all colleges and universities.

For 2008-2009 a record number of Pitzer students (138) joined our sports teams, making up 33% of the Sagehen’s varsity athletes. Sagehen sports highlights this year include the baseball team being ranked number one in the country in April and in early May, winning their fourth consecutive SCIAC championship. Women’s water polo finished the season by winning its fifth Collegiate III Championship. For the second year they are ranked number one in division III. The women’s cross country team placed second at the NCAA Division III West Region, and the men’s team was named the All-Academic Team by the US Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. The women’s track and field team finished fourth in SCIAC Championships. The women’s tennis team finished fourth in NCAA Division III Team National Championship. A record 460 Pitzer students participated in intramural athletics this year, from soccer and softball to dodge ball and foosball.

The new student orientation in August organized by the Office of Student Affairs was the most successful to date. The Pitzer Parents Association did a magnificent job of welcoming new families to the Pitzer community and the parent luncheon established a new record with over 400 parents in attendance. Thanks to a generous gift in support of the pre-orientation backpacking trips from a friend of the College, for the summer of 2009 the pre-orientation program was doubled with twelve programs offered for the class of 2013. The College can now accommodate all incoming first-year students wanting to participate in trips next year. The opportunity to socialize with their peers before the start of orientation and to start forming friendships is believed to be a positive factor in our recent success with increased retention. This year in response to requests by students and their parents, Career Services increased their visibility and attendance at campus-wide events, including Family Weekend, and senior students reported increased satisfaction in the senior survey with the results.


Families are very happy to be joining Pitzer College, particularly in view of the fact that our Vice President for Admission Arnaldo Rodriguez brought in another record class of Pitzer students. Pitzer received a record 4,081 applications and offered admission to only 20%, making Pitzer the ninth most selective liberal arts college in the United States. The first-year class consists of 250 students from 220 different high schools throughout the country. Women constitute 62% of the first year class, the same as last year. Fifty-five percent of the entering class is from outside California. The major geographic areas represented, in order, are New York, Washington, Massachusetts, Illinois, Colorado and New Jersey.

One-third of the class graduated from high school with a 4.0 GPA or higher—the average GPA was 3.9. Over 45% of the incoming class was in the top 10% of their high school class. Eleven percent of the class is the first in their family to attend college. The class is among the most ethnically diverse ever enrolled at Pitzer College—30% are from under-represented groups. Pitzer is ranked fifth in student racial diversity by the 2010 US News and World Report.

Forty-one percent of the entering class receives financial aid, and Pitzer is committed to meeting 100% of every student’s demonstrated financial need. Twelve percent of the class receives Cal Grants. The average financial aid package at Pitzer is $36,500. Pitzer College has also successfully reduced the average amount of indebtedness of its students. Over the past five years, the average cumulative debt after four years of study decreased 24%, from nearly $22,000 to $16,000. Maintaining this decrease is imperative for our future success in recruiting potential students.

The College continues to experience a general, positive trend in student retention. For 2008-2009, fall to spring retention was maintained at 98% for the second year in a row. First to second year students retained at 92%. Also for 2008-2009 there was a marked increase in retention from second to third year students, 81% to 86%, the highest third-year retention rate in Pitzer’s history. Our four-year graduation rate increased from 74% to 75%, our five-year graduation rate stayed at 78%, and our six-year graduation rate had a sizeable increase from 70% to 80%. At this time, our four-, five-, and six-year graduation rates are the highest in the College’s history.

The College enjoyed positive reviews in the various ranking publications and for the second year we are ranked forty-ninth overall in the nation among liberal arts colleges in the 2009 U.S.News & World Report America’s Best Colleges rankings. Pitzer has been recognized as the third best liberal arts college in the new “Up-and-Coming Schools” category (the only West Coast College in the top ten) and our study abroad programs have been named, for the first time, one of U.S. News’ “Programs to Look For.” Pitzer was named one of the nation’s best colleges and number one in the category of Race/Class Interaction in the 2009 edition of The Princeton Review’s The Best 368 Colleges, and the College was also ranked 104th in the nation out of 569 colleges and universities in’s America’s Best Colleges. Finally, Pitzer was named to the first-ever President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. This distinction recognizes students, faculty and staff for helping to build a culture of service and civic engagement in the United States.

Public Relations

This year we welcomed Kira Poplowski as our new Vice President for Marketing and Public Relations. In the fall, she formed an ad-hoc Visual Identity Committee, consisting of two faculty, two staff, two students, and two alums, and led them to consensus on a new Pitzer look and feel, and just three months into her tenure she worked with in-house graphic designers to produce the 2008 “Report of Excellence,” which won a CASE award for design. Most recently she launched a redesigned, reorganized College website, done in collaboration with a committee of faculty, staff and students, Office of PR staff, and multiple campus stakeholders.


The summer is always devoted to capital projects and the summers of 2008 and 2009 were busy ones with the College creating footprints for the future. In July the original Sanborn Hall was razed (nearly 90% of the building was recycled), leaving nearly two acres that will serve as a site for a commencement plaza (slated for completion this spring), a basketball court and volleyball court, and eventually a new Joint Science building. Modular units will be moved onto the old Sanborn parking lot in the spring of 2010 to temporarily serve the needs of Joint Science until funding by the three colleges is secured for a new building. Also completed was a redesigned entrance for the west side of the McConnell dining hall and the bathrooms on the ground floor of that building were renovated. Also in 2008 the covered walkway on the west side of the Pellissier Mall (The Mounds) was torn down in anticipation of Avery Auditorium renovation, currently underway.

The auditorium renovation is on budget and on time and is currently scheduled to be completed February 2010. To take the place of the walkway columns that students enjoyed painting, new concrete benches are being installed along the pathway for student art. For the past two summers, dozens of bike racks have been installed in response to our new policy of no longer allowing first-year students to have cars their first year on campus. Pitzer was the first of the Claremont Colleges to establish this precedent and this year Harvey Mudd and Claremont McKenna are joining us. The class of 2013 was recruited with the understanding that they would not be allowed to have cars their first or second years at the College. We have expanded zip cars on campus to accommodate student travel needs.


This was the first time in my professional life that I was granted a sabbatical. The three months were rewarding and refreshing, and I would like to express my appreciation to the College for this opportunity. I am pleased to report that my fifth book was accepted by Knopf to be published in March 2010: Mark Twain’s Other Woman: The Hidden Story of His Final Years and this fall I am co-teaching a seminar with my colleague in history, Professor Stuart McConnell, titled “The Great Depression.”

As always, it remains a professional and personal pleasure to be part of Pitzer College.

Laura Skandera Trombley