Blue Mountain College announced last week that it would admit men to all of its programs, starting in January.
The Mississippi college was founded in 1873 as a women's institution, but since 1956, it has admitted men as students if they are preparing for the ministry or are enrolled in non-degree programs. Blue Mountain is run by the Mississippi Baptist Convention.
In an interview, the president of Blue Mountain, Bettye Coward, said that the decision was part of a natural evolution for a college. "Institutions need to review their missions," she said.
Coward said that recruiting is difficult at Blue Mountain, which is located in the rural northeast part of Mississippi. She said that location -- more than the college's single-sex status -- limited enrollments. Currently the college has just under 400 students, and Coward said that enrollment could grow to between 500 and 600 without adding facilities, and she would like to see that growth.
Some of the college's alumnae -- especially those from before there were any male students -- are concerned about the change, Coward said. But she added that there have been no protests and that most students and faculty supported the move. Local newspaper accounts also indicated support -- mixed with a little uncertainty -- on the campus.
Male ministry students already make up almost one-fourth of the student body, Coward said, so the arrival of male students in other fields should not be a major adjustment. Still, Coward said that she would be appointing a transition committee to identify any changes that might be needed.
The decision by Blue Mountain follows a trend in which a number of women's colleges -- especially those with relatively low enrollments -- have decided to admit men. This academic year, Immaculata University and Lesley and Wells Colleges enrolled their first male freshmen. In the last few years, Chestnut Hill and Harcum Colleges have also admitted men for the first time. All of the colleges are reporting surges in applications and enrollments following their decisions.
Marymount College, a women's institution in Tarrytown, N.Y., is also being shut down, by Fordham University, which assumed control of the college in 2000, but failed in its efforts to increase enrollments to levels that would be financially sustainable.