After More Then a Century, Sweet Briar College to Close

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Sweet Briar College, established in 1901, has announced it will be closing its doors this August due to “insurmountable financial challenges,” according to the college’s leadership.

The college’s board of directors came to a unanimous decision to close the school at an emergency meeting in Washington.  The school is set to close on August 25, 2015.

“This is a sad day for the entire Sweet Briar College community,” Paul G. Rice, the board chairman, said in a statement. “The board closely examined the college’s financial situation and weighed it against our obligations to current and prospective students, parents, faculty and staff, alumnae, donors and friends. We voted to act now to cease academic operations responsibly, allowing us to place students at other academic institutions, to assist faculty and staff with the transition and to conduct a more orderly winding down of academic operations.”

The college, located in Virginia, has historically offered woman a liberal arts education, but a $84 million endowment was not enough to keep the college alive – a sign of what is to come for single-sex and smaller liberal arts institutions, writes Nick Anderson for The Washington Post.

Julia Patt, a 2009 graduate, said students and graduates have a powerful bond to Sweet Briar. “To have it taken away, there really are not words for it,” she said. “I hope other institutions that come to a similar place might see some options. It doesn’t have to be like this for everyone.”

The Women’s College Coalition reports there were 230 women’s colleges in the United States as of fifty years ago.  However, due to closures and co-ed transformations, that number has reduced to just over 40.  While some continue to remain a brand name in many households, including Smith, Wellesley, and Barnard, others have fallen to financial burdens and found it difficult to attract new students.

Jo Ellen Parker, then-president of Sweet Briar, announced cutbacks in 2013 in an effort to save the college.  The volleyball team was cut as well as classes in Italian and German.  Parker said this was done in order to highlight the true focus of the college, such as the programs that help women enter careers in science, technology and engineering.

Despite this, enrollment continued to fall.  The school had 760 students in 2010, but only 700 last fall.  Although the college has historically charged $47,000 per year for tuition, fees, and room and board, in order to attract new students it was forced to offer tuition discounts at an average of 60%, which was more of a cut than the institution could afford.

School officials said they would offer help to their current students to make it easier for them to transfer to another school.