By Laura Dripps
As Grinnell’s most recent five-year commitment to the Posse program draws to a close, the College is deciding whether to continue its relationship with the Posse Foundation by evaluating Posse students’ academic and extracurricular achievements and recent admissions demographic data.
The review of the College’s commitment to Posse is being conducted by the Office of Analytic Support and Institutional Research, which will evaluate data on Posse as a group. The final results of the review are expected sometime between March and May.
According to Vice President for Enrollment Joe Bagnoli, the review is looking to determine what percentage of domestic students of color are the direct result of Grinnell’s partnership with Posse, the success rate of Posse students, typically measured by graduation rate, and the leadership engagement of Posse students. One of the goals of the Posse program is to enroll students who would have otherwise been overlooked in the admissions process, so the College is also looking to determine how many Posse students at Grinnell were likely to have in fact been overlooked, had it not been for the College’s relationship with Posse.
“The College is intent on assessing the effectiveness of the program and helping the College reach the goals originally associated with the partnership,” Bagnoli said. “I think it would be premature to say that anybody has reached a conclusion or a decision about getting rid, quote unquote, of Posse.”
“I think Posse is incredibly beneficial,” said Michael Benitez, Director of Intercultural Engagement and Leadership. “I think beyond diversity, they bring an already established sense of leadership, of very transformative leadership, that gives way for tackling and challenging issues at any institution.”
He said President Raynard Kington wants to use the review to measure how well the program is meeting its goals.
“I think [the review] has more to do with the president wanting to see if it’s effective [or] not effective,” Benitez said. “Is it meeting institutional goals with respect to diversity recruitment and achievement?”
Bagnoli said the renewal of any program should require review.
“I think that it’s appropriate for us to ask ourselves before signing on for another five years—of anything that would require a renewal—what were our original objectives and have those objectives been met?” Bagnoli said. “If they have been met, I think there will be a great deal of enthusiasm for continuing our relationship. If the conclusion reached is that they haven’t all been met, then I think it would be a question of ongoing dialogue with the Posse Foundation about how to achieve our mutual objectives.”
The Posse Foundation recruits students enrolled in public high schools in major metropolitan areas who may be overlooked by traditional college admissions processes. Posse students are selected based on their academic and extracurricular achievements and leadership potential.
Selected students arrive at a partner school as a “posse” of 10 students, who meet frequently throughout their first two years of college with a mentor, and receive a full-tuition scholarship through all four years of college.
Bagnoli said that he believed the Posse Program is in keeping with Grinnell’s mission of social justice.
“What we recognize is that Posse is, in many ways, an expression of the College’s primary commitments to academic excellence, diversity and social responsibility,” he said. “I think Posse, in some ways, among other enrollment initiatives, is perhaps one that most fully expresses the range of the college’s commitments.”
He also said the program’s financial cost has not been the main concern so far. “We have not, up to this point, looked at the financial impact of the program on the College’s operating budget. We intend to consider that. It may well be one of the last things that we consider. We do recognize that there is some expense to the program,” said Bagnoli, adding that such concerns have become more relevant in light of concerns over the College’s financial situation.
Another area being reviewed is the academic success of Posse students. The College is determining whether Posse students are under, over, or comparably represented amongst Grinnell students academically.
“One of the things that we want to determine is the extent to which Posse students generally have been successful at Grinnell academically,” Bagnoli said. “There’s a focus on that to try to ensure that the match between the scholars that we’re selecting and the institution itself is a good one. I’m optimistic about that because the early findings suggest that Posse students persist to graduation at rates comparable to non-Posse classmates. That was an area of interest for us. It’s also an area of interest for the Posse Foundation itself.”
Other areas of interest for the review include the geographic location of Grinnell’s posses. Currently, the College hosts posses from Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. According to Bagnoli, recent increases in admission to students from California may lead the college to consider hosting a Posse from a location other than Los Angeles in order to increase geographic diversity, although the admissions numbers have not yet been disaggregated.
The College is also considering shifting the annual Posse prospective student visit in March to a pre-orientation program like the Grinnell Science Project.
Swimming and Diving Coach and Professor of Physical Education Erin Hurley is a mentor for DC Posse 5, comprised of members of the class of 2013. Hurley said that as a Posse mentor and faculty member, she was asked to fill out a survey on the general performance of Posse students with regard to “categories that we value: leadership skills, speaking up in class, taking initiative, all things that we’re looking for in students.”
Hurley said that although it is important to measure the program’s effectiveness, the contributions of Posse students to Grinnell are extremely significant.
“It’s a good thing to have programs at Grinnell evaluated to see how they can be better, how we can support them, or if we want to continue to support them,” Hurley said. “I’m on the side of very much continuing to support Posse, hands down… My interaction and work with Posse students has been positive and has shown that they’ve made, I think, a significant contribution in many areas to our college campus and have made this place a better place.”
Posse is intended to have an impact on its partner institutions by conferring benefits to the whole institution.
“What I value the most about Posse is that it brings together students who offer something theoretically new to the College, which is their leadership and dynamism,” said Anika Manzoor ’13, a Posse student.
“I think Grinnell should keep Posse because the whole mission of Posse is to pull kids who are traditionally ignored by the application process but can theoretically succeed in college,” Manzoor said. “I think Posse students have shown at Grinnell that they can succeed and they can be academically challenged and use this Grinnell education to do good in the world. I think we have a proven track record of that.”