Sweet Briar College Saved, But Enrollment Issues Linger


A circuit court judge has recently approved a deal that would keep Sweet Briar College open, saving the 114-year-old women’s college from closing for at least one more year.

The decision will cause leadership at the college to change, including the election of a new president and replacing 75% of board members.  The goal of these new additions is to convert pledged donations into cash, recruit a freshman class, and try to gain back the students, faculty members and employees who had been told they needed to leave.

It is expected that faculty members will either be offered severance packages or jobs on campus.  Some had already signed contracts that allowed them to return to campus in the event that Sweet Briar remained open, writes Susan Svrluga for The Washington Post.

While many experts believe this to be an impossible task, advocates for the school remain determined, as calls from interested students continue to pour into the school.

It has been emotional for everyone,” said Ashley L. Taylor Jr., who has been working for months to help an alumnae group fighting the closure, and difficult for the current board and president to agree to step aside. “No one let their ego get in the way of doing the right thing.”

Sweet Briar’s president, James F. Jones Jr., had announced the sudden closure of the school on March 3 during a meeting of faculty and students.  He told attendees that due to “insurmountable financial challenges” the college would be closing its doors at the end of August.  According to Jones, the college had lost revenue and enrollment and could not afford to continue to operate.

After the announcement came a number of efforts to keep the school open.  According to the settlement, a donation of $12 million for the 2015-16 school year would be made by Saving Sweet Briar, Inc, the advocacy group formed to keep the school open. The first installment of $2.5 million is set to be due on July 2, 2015.

In addition, Attorney General Mark Herring said he would ease up on restrictions concerning the $16 million endowment that will allow the college to operate, writes Sheryl Gay Stolberg for The New York Times.

However, higher education marketing expert Rob Moore shared his concerns about challenges faced by the college as they continue to operate through the upcoming year.  He wonders how long alumnae will continue to donate to the school, and where the students will come from, as there is currently no incoming freshman class and many of the previous students have already found new placements for the fall semester.  He added that the school may have problems assuring prospective students that it will remain open for years to come.