Searching for Students -- and a Name

In deciding to admit men, Randolph-Macon Woman's College has alienated many and created need for a different title.
October 27, 2006

This fall, as Randolph-Macon Woman’s College’s Board of Trustees prepared for a vote that would allow men to enroll, the office of admissions had its own pressing concern: what to do about a likely name change that would render its brochures and promotional materials useless.

The answer came in the form of a small yellow sticker. Before the September 9 vote, in which trustees approved the coeducation plan, all college material included the name Randolph-Macon Woman’s College with “...and Men?” stickers placed above the third word.

After the vote, “...and Men?”  became “...and Men!” and “Now Enrolling Men. New Name Coming Soon!”

The question is how soon. While college officials had hoped to announce the new name this month, they have extended the deadline to submit entries until November 10. Many have already come in, from the serious to the humorous, such as "The College Formerly Known as Randolph-Macon Woman's College." The final decision will likely come in December, said Brenda Edson, a college spokeswoman.

The name change underscores one of the many logistical problems at Randolph-Macon, which is set to enroll men starting next fall. 

“We need a name to go forward with intense fund raising and advertising," Edson said. "We're in a holding pattern at the moment. Once we have a new name, we’re going to attack.”

For the past few months, a share of the college's alumnae have been on the attack, trying both before and after the vote to convince trustees to reconsider the plan to admit men. Students held campus protests, and nine students this month sued the college, alleging a breach of contract because they were recruited to attend a women's college.

Some opponents of the coeducation plan say the real issue is that the college has mismanaged its endowment. Trustees and Randolph-Macon's president have said repeatedly that the college had to make the move because there aren't enough women who want to attend a single-sex college to keep the institution financially viable.

Enrollment has long been a concern for the college, which has seen a downward trend from nearly 900 students in the 1960s to 712 this fall. Eight students have transferred out since the fall term began, but Edson said none indicated that it was for reasons having to do with the board’s decision.

"Students don't come just because it's single sex," Edson said, and most of those who leave do so to attend a coeducational institution. "We fully expect to have students transfer mid-year or at the end of the year. But we've had that problem for quite some time."

Randolph-Macon's retention rate is about 63 percent, according to Edson.

Still, some women's college colleges are preparing for Randolph-Macon students who don't want to give up the single-sex setting. Agnes Scott College, a woman’s institution in Georgia, received enough inquiries from Randolph-Macon students that it decided to create a page on its Web site devoted to potential transfer students.

Stephanie Balmer, dean of admission at Agnes Scott, said the inquiries started in August.

“We told them, don’t make a hasty decision; wait until after the vote,” Balmer said. “The interest continued after the vote, so we were in a position to provide help to those students."  

Agnes Scott is encouraging Randolph-Macon students who have expressed an interest in transferring to visit an open house there next month. The college will consider students who want to enroll as early as January. While students normally must complete 64 credit hours at Agnes Scott to graduate from there, the college is considering relaxing that rule for some Randolph-Macon students.

Balmer said the college takes about 40 transfer students a year but can accommodate a few more under these circumstances.

"In these cases, students fell in love with the idea of a woman's college, and in their mind, they need to stay in that environment," Balmer said.

Sweet Briar College, a single-sex institution in Virginia, is also making exceptions to its 60 campus credit-hour rule for students considering a transfer from Randolph-Macon. Jennifer McManamay, a college spokeswoman, said about six Randolph-Macon juniors have already contacted Sweet Briar, though the college doesn't anticipate having to use the option.

"We aren't soliciting transfers, and this is a temporary thing," McManamay said.

Between 30 and 40 Randolph-Macon students have either called or already applied to Hollins University, another woman's college in Virginia, said Rebecca Eckstein, dean of admissions and financial aid. One former Randolph-Macon student, who barely beat the fall deadline, is already enrolled at Hollins.

Eckstein said she has received several "very emotional calls" from potential Randolph-Macon transfers.

Meanwhile, Randolph-Macon is focused on its immediate future, which centers on the name game. The majority of suggestions have involved the words "Randolph" and "Macon" in some way, or are to keep the name the same. But a task force assembled to consider changes said using forms of the original name isn't feasible, largely because it wants to eliminate the confusion between the institution and the existing Randolph-Macon College, which enrolls men and women.

Colleges changing their names is nothing new. Five years ago, what was Beaver College became Arcadia University. Texas Woman's University has gone through a number of permutations -- including Girls Industrial College, College of Industrial Arts and Texas State College for Women.

Men have been admitted at Texas Woman's College since 1972, but the name didn't change because of the student body makeup. "Our intention never was to be fully 50-50, so the change wouldn't make sense," said Amanda Simpson, a college spokeswoman.

The college, which has more than 10,000 students, is 92 percent female.

Mississippi University For Women, which has admitted men since 1982, remains 85 percent female and also decided to stick to its name.


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