Bryn Mawr 150, Penn 5.

That's a painful-looking score for a Penn student.

Those numbers show students' participation in the Quaker Consortium, an arrangement in which students at Penn, Bryn Mawr, Swarthmore and Haverford colleges can take classes at any of the other schools. In the fall of 2004, about 150 Bryn Mawr students made the trip to Penn to take a class at no extra charge, while only five Penn students took a class at any of the other colleges.

The word consortium brings to mind multiple entities working toward a common goal, benefiting every member. But the numbers send a crystal-clear message: Penn students aren't all that interested in consorting with their suburban neighbors. Meanwhile, Bryn Mawr students are flocking to Penn like undergrads to the Quadrangle during Spring Fling. Factor in comparable figures for Swarthmore and Haverford, and one is left wondering how exactly the Quaker Consortium actually benefits the Quakers.

The short answer, at the moment, is not at all.

Students from the smaller colleges come to Penn for the breadth of its curriculum - there is no business or nursing school at Haverford or Swarthmore, for example. They are also attracted to Philadelphia's resources, both social and cultural. Unfortunately, these colleges can't offer the same perks to Penn students.

Suburban liberal arts colleges do have benefits, of course. For one, classes tend to be a lot smaller. And there is a lot to be said for exposing oneself to a new environment, academically and geographically.

But Penn students have voted with their feet, leading to an inescapable conclusion. Unless you are a desperate male student aching to try your luck at Bryn Mawr, chances are you're going to stay between 33rd and 40th streets to take your classes. No amount of prodding or promotion - from any of the colleges - is going to change that general trend.

Still, that doesn't mean that Penn should resign itself to the losing end of a parasitic arrangement. Nor does it need to break away from the arrangement altogether. It simply needs to create incentives for its students to take advantage of the other colleges.

One instance where this has worked - for more than 40 years, in fact - is the Five College consortium in Massachusetts. The Five Colleges are strikingly similar to the Quaker Consortium. One large university (UMass-Amherst) allies with a group of liberal arts colleges (Smith, Amherst, Mount Holyoke and Hampshire colleges). The difference lies in the resources that the group has collectively produced.

For one, UMass funds free transportation for all consortium students to and from each of the colleges. This luxury alone puts it ahead of Penn - even the other Quaker Consortium schools pay for their students' travel. And the cost of regional rail fare to and from Haverford multiple times a week is enough to make any Penn student think twice about leaving campus.

The schools are connected in other ways, as well. Student groups at each school are open to students from any of the other schools. A consortium lecture fund supports cultural events and talks that promote integration among the schools. Any consortium student has open borrowing privileges at the other schools' libraries. Students can even arrange to use their meal plans at the other schools' dining halls.

The list goes on and on, and it is all detailed on a well-maintained and comprehensive Web site. Compare that to Penn and our own consortium, which doesn't even have a Web site. And the only mention on the College of Arts and Sciences' Web site, for example, is a stern blurb about course credit and relevant paperwork.

If Penn is to make the consortium a true asset, it needs to foster the kind of programs that UMass students enjoy. Those are the resources that will help bring Penn students to the Main Line.

Penn students won't go to Bryn Mawr in the same numbers that Bryn Mawr students come here, and they probably never will. And that's not all bad, of course - Penn's ability to attract students from other schools is a testament to its status as one of the country's best universities.

Still, the Five College example suggests that there is a lot to be gained from the consortium. The current one-way street scenario leaves most of that potential untapped.

And we can do a whole lot better than 150-5, for everyone's benefit.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.