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Mills College, Long Struggling, to Close

March 18, 2021
 
 

In 2015, after Sweet Briar College announced a plan to close that it has since reversed, another women's college on the other side of the country seemed like it might soon follow. "Trying to Survive," the headline on Inside Higher Ed's profile of Mills College read, saying it "struggles with declining enrollment, a growing discount rate and faculty-administrator tensions. How endangered is the college?"

The verdict came Wednesday, as Mills -- after years in which it declared a financial emergency and imposed significant layoffs, reset its tuition, sold off works of art, and tried numerous other strategies -- announced that it will stop enrolling new first-time undergraduate students after this fall and focus on pathways for graduating the students it has.

President Elizabeth L. Hillman said the historic women's college -- whose trustees voted to admit men in 1990, only to reverse course after two weeks of intense protest -- would seek to sustain its mission by creating a "Mills Institute" that would "foster women’s leadership and student success, advance gender and racial equity, and cultivate innovative pedagogy, research, and critical thinking." She said campus leaders would work with the college's many constituents to craft a vision for the institute in the coming months.

"Today’s news signals the end of an era in Mills College’s history," Hillman wrote. "It may provoke a variety of reactions and emotions in you, as it has in me. I also expect you will have many questions, some of which I will not yet be able to answer. Mills takes seriously our obligation to keep you apprised as we assess options and build pathways for transition.

"Since it began as a small seminary in Benicia, California, Mills has brought learning and inspiration to those who might not otherwise have found it. The next chapter in Mills’ history will do likewise, serving Mills’ educational mission and sustaining its commitment to equity. We will need everyone’s help to navigate a successful transition and write that next chapter."

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