Advocates for keeping Sweet Briar College open held protests Friday and shared photographs of their actions on social media (at right). At the same time, many Sweet Briar students -- however upset that their college's board plans to shut it down -- are applying to transfer elsewhere. More than 200 have applied to Hollins University, also a women's college in Virginia, The Roanoke Times reported.
Grand Canyon University's chances of going private have dropped considerably, the Phoenix Business Journal reported based on an interview with the for-profit college's president. Brian Mueller told the Journal that there was less than a 50 percent chance of the publicly traded company going private or nonprofit. Shareholders refused to accept buyouts to convert the publicly traded company. The company offered to buy out shares for 15 percent more than they're worth.
The University of Massachusetts System, like many colleges and universities, has used debt financing in recent years to add and renovate facilities. But an article in The Boston Globe raises questions about the impact of using so much debt. The current debt level is $3 billion. This year, the university will pay $203 million in debt and interest, up from $137 million five years ago.
Sweet Briar’s closure could affect life at Hampden-Sydney, said William Ballance, a 2011 graduate of Hampden-Sydney who is involved in the campaign.
“Sweet Briar is an integral part to the Hampden-Sydney experience and saving Sweet Briar is essential to maintaining the quality of life and the status quo for Hampden-Sydney students current and future,” Ballance said in an e-mail. “There are far-reaching externalities from the closing of Sweet Briar.”
The men’s college put out a statement last week saying much the same: "Since Sweet Briar's opening in 1901, generations of Hampden-Sydney students, faculty and staff have formed personal and professional relationships with their counterparts at the women's liberal arts college.”
Also this week, a state senator whose grandmother attended Sweet Briar said he wrote a letter to the Virginia attorney general asking what will happen to the $84 million or so in the college’s endowment. The process for divvying up donated money is actually outlined in state law, but the attorney general plays a key role in that process and is part of talks that could determine where a chunk of that money ends up.
While Sweet Briar and Hampden-Sydney alumni may be upset about the plans to close Sweet Briar, others have praised its proactive closure, which Sweet Briar leaders say will prevent an unseemly death spiral.
The viability of women’s colleges is one of those evergreen topics in higher education that has again come to the forefront with the announcement that Sweet Briar College will be closing at the end of this academic year. I am saddened to learn of this decision. But I am convinced, after 15 years of experience leading women’s colleges, that the closing of one college does not portend the fall of others. Hollins University and Sweet Briar have historically been very different colleges, each with its own unique set of challenges and opportunities. The real question is: Do women’s colleges still play an important role in higher education?
Informed by scientific research and our own experiences, we know that each person learns differently; the learning environment and how one “fits” are keys to individual success. For many students today, a women’s college provides distinctive opportunities and is the right fit.
What do women’s colleges offer that is different than coeducational institutions? Women’s colleges help young women find their voices, learn how to “lean in,” and develop the confidence to push back against the challenges so many women face in the workplace and in life. They are places where women find the support and encouragement they need to take risks, push boundaries and succeed personally and professionally.
There are more obvious considerations as well. The tensions and expectations, biases and pressures found in the mix of male and female students on coeducational campuses are much less in evidence at women’s colleges. Research suggests, for example, that students at women’s colleges feel less pressure to engage in binge drinking and other negative behaviors associated with campus life. They often feel more empowered to set high expectations and work to achieve them in the absence of negative judgments by male peers. They also have higher participation rates in leadership positions and extracurricular activities and are less likely to make career decisions that steer them to female-dominated jobs.
This research is reinforced by the many accounts of both students and alumnae of women’s colleges about enhancing learning skills, building confidence and keeping the friendships made on campus well into their adult lives.
Further, many women’s colleges claim some of the most loyal, engaged and dedicated alumnae in the nation. At Hollins, we emphasize alumnae engagement in internship placement and career mentoring for students as we counter the old boys' network with our new women’s connections. Further, 11 percent of our entering students last year were referred by alumnae, and we are well on our way to reaching our goal of 300 alumnae-referred students in this academic year. Women’s college alumnae are incredible resources and many of them are ready, willing and able to help today’s students succeed in a world where women’s parity has not yet been achieved.
From large research institutions to small liberal arts colleges, private universities to state university systems, and community colleges to vocational schools, choice is the hallmark of our system of higher education. Each provides a meaningful opportunity for finding that crucial fit.
At Hollins and other women’s colleges across the country, we are providing an important option for young women at a time when more and more of them are looking for the best educational environment in which to prepare for a workplace where women are still not paid as well as men, where they are not represented as equally and where, still too often, they are treated as sexual objects. Thus, I am certain women’s colleges still have a vital role to play in educating and inspiring tomorrow’s leaders. And Hollins, with a strong endowment, no debt, a growing applicant pool, a highly credentialed faculty and an incredibly loyal alumnae body, is well positioned to provide such an education for many more years to come.
Nancy Gray is the president of Hollins University in Virginia.
Tensions between the University of California System and state leaders escalated Tuesday, The Sacramento Bee reported. State officials have been pushing the university system to shift some admissions slots from out-of-state applicants to Californians. But in legislative testimony Tuesday, UC President Janet Napolitano said that the university could not increase in-state enrollment at current budget levels. “We will not be admitting students that we don’t know that we actually have funding for,” she said. Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins called Napolitano's statement "UC’s latest attempt to use students as bargaining chips.”
Wyoming Catholic College announced last week that it will not participate in federal student aid or loan programs. The college, founded in 2005, achieved candidate status for accreditation last year, making it eligible to apply to participate in federal student aid programs. But the college's board voted not to participate, citing concerns about federal regulations that are attached to student aid programs. While many private colleges complain about federal regulations, very few opt out of aid programs. The college said it would step up fund-raising efforts so that it could offer more assistance directly to students. A statement from President Kevin Roberts said: “By abstaining from federal funding programs, we will safeguard our mission from unwarranted federal involvement — an involvement increasingly at odds with our Catholic beliefs, the content of our curriculum, and our institutional practices.”
Western Nevada College announced Tuesday that it is eliminating its two intercollegiate teams, baseball and softball, The Record Courier reported. Officials said they could not justify the expense -- $400,000 a year for 50 students who played on the teams.
A small free-standing art college in Massachusetts, Montserrat College of Art, may merge into Salem State University, the two institutions announced Monday. The two institutions have been in private due diligence discussions and now plan to move to public discussions involving various campus constituencies. A statement from Stephen D. Immerman, the Montserrat president, said, "Montserrat offers a unique brand of arts education for a unique student population. However, as a small, private college with less than 400 students, it is challenging to provide the resources needed to maintain and grow the competitive advantages needed for working artists. By joining Salem State, we believe that we can ensure that the Montserrat name and the college's tradition of excellence and student-centered education will remain available for future generations of aspiring artists and designers."