What Will Happen to Women’s Colleges After Sweet Briar’s Closing?

Posted By Donna Fuscaldo on June 5, 2015 at 11:22 am
What Will Happen to Women’s Colleges After Sweet Briar’s Closing?

Women’s colleges have been around for more than a century, but the recent closure of 114 year-old Sweet Briar has left many wondering if these types of higher education institutions will become a distant memory in years to come.

After all, Sweet Briar’s woes stemmed in large part from a decline in enrollment, with female high school students showing a waning interest in attending an all-women’s college. Not to mention that its location in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia made it less appealing to students who are used to seeing a Starbucks on every other corner.

Closures and changes nationwide

Sweet Briar may be an extreme example of what can go wrong with a rural, all-female liberal arts college, but it’s not the only indication that this type of institution is struggling.  Consider this: according to the Women’s College Coalition, in the 1960’s, the U.S. was home to more than 200 women’s colleges. Today, there are fewer than 50. What’s more, the Women’s College Collation says that less than 5% of high school-aged women will even think about applying to a college for women only.

Seeing the writing on the wall, a handful of women’s colleges have gone coed, including Wilson College in Pennsylvania, William Peace University in Raleigh, Georgian Court University in New Jersey and Chatham University in Pittsburgh. Just last month, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Indiana announced that it would admit male students after 175 years of serving women.

However, interest on the part of female high school students isn’t the only problem women-only colleges face.  According to CollegeStats.org, while women are the minority in a lot of degree programs in general, they are earning more degrees than men. Since they are already dominating the classrooms in colleges and universities around the country, many wonder if there is even a need for women-only schools.

Are women’s colleges still relevant?

Proponents of this type of education, though, contend there are many reasons why women only schools are still relevant. For starters, data from CollegeStats.org indicates that students of women-only schools not only fare better than their co-ed counterparts in terms of completing their degree program but also in broadening their skills and feeling fully prepared to enter the workforce.  A large majority of women-only college graduates, 72 percent, say that they are “completely satisfied” with their education.

What’s more, Patricia J. Mitchell, a retired IBM vice president and an alumna and chair of the board of trustees of Notre Dame of Maryland University, contends that graduates of these colleges are twice as likely as female graduates of co-ed schools to earn a Ph.D., go to medical school or engage in other STEM-related disciplines.

No one is predicting that all women’s colleges will shutter their doors any time soon. However, there’s no question they are facing unique challenges. Whether or not they will be able to last another century, let alone a decade, as women-only schools will largely depend on their ability to adapt to the new landscape in higher education.

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo is a freelance journalist hailing out of Long Island, New York. She has also written for Bankrate.com, Glassdoor.com, SigFig.com, FoxBusiness.com, Business Insider, Dow Jones Newswires and the Wall Street Journal.

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