Sweet Briar College: End of the Line

Sweet Briar College: End of the Line

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There are very few single gender colleges and universities left in the United States as most now are co-educational. For the remaining schools, surviving as an all-male or all-female institution usually means becoming creative by accepting other students online or at the graduate level.

Nearly 115 Years of Education

Sweet Briar College in Virginia is the most recent casualty in a collection of small schools that are closing. Earlier this month the college of just 520 undergraduates said that it would shut its doors, ending more than a century of educating women. Indeed, the school opened in 1901 and managed to get through a pair of world wars, a depression, and withstand the changing educational tastes of students to get to where it is today.

But like so many small colleges regardless of mission, surviving is becoming increasingly difficult. Maintaining aged facilities, competition from much larger schools and a reliance on student loans has challenged these institutions. Sweet Briar, like so many schools, has been attempting to restructure. Its announcement stunned students, faculty and alumnae alike, with some people taking to social media in a bid to raise the estimated $250 million Sweet Briar may need to survive.

College administrators, however, offered nothing to encourage anyone that a plan could save the school. Indeed, James F. Jones, Sweet Briar’s president, explained to parents last Wednesday that “he could not conceive of any institutional adaptation or business plan that could pull the college out of the financial tailspin caused by its declining enrollments,” reported the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Endowment and Faculty Severance

Closing the college also means that 300 employees, including 80 full-time faculty members, will be out of work. Severance pay is possible, but nearly two-thirds of the $84 million endowment is in donor-restricted accounts and can only be used for educational purposes. The remaining $28 million will be used to pay off creditors, transfer students to new institutions and for finding another college to archive its records.

Transferring students to other schools is a top priority, especially as the transfer period has already closed at some colleges and universities. Still, administrators have already reached agreements with four institutions that will accept Sweet Briar students, including a pair of women’s colleges in Virginia. One the schools, Hollins University, has already agreed to adopt Sweet Briar’s study abroad programs in France and Spain. Hollins will also assume the student records of the graduates.

The Outlook for Other Small Colleges

The pending closure of Sweet Briar College has shaken academia, especially other small colleges that are also vulnerable. Limited revenue streams are putting the squeeze on such schools as the need to provide additional aid to students continues to rise. Endowments and philanthropy can only go so far and tuition as well as government aid are additional variables that make running a small college difficult.

For the remaining small schools to make a go of it, that can mean a number of things. Raising the endowment, cutting expenses including reducing faculty levels, and paying off debt can help. Consolidating programs, adding graduate studies and looking for other ways to increase the school’s relevance can help too. Ultimately, it will take a lot of work for many small schools to survive, with visionary administrators needed to help these colleges make that transition.

See Also — For-Profit Alpine College Shuts Its Doors

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