Sweet Briar’s demise

In the NYT on March 3rd, “Virginia: Women’s College Will Close Over Finances” by Tamar Lewin:

Sweet Briar College, a century-old women’s liberal-arts college near Lynchburg, announced Tuesday that it will close in August. The college, which has 700 students and 329 employees, cited “insurmountable financial problems” and the shrinking number of students interested in a rural women-only college.

(My connection to Sweet Briar is through my wife, Ann Daingerfield Zwicky, who spent 1957-58 abroad under the auspices of the Sweet Briar Junior Year in France.)

More on the closing, from an op-ed piece in yesterday’s NYT, “Sweet Briar Is Fighting an Up-Hill Battle” by Diane Halpern, beginning:

Despite a beautiful campus, dedicated faculty, loyal alumnae and a significant endowment, Sweet Briar College is closing after 114 years. Too few students were choosing Sweet Briar, so the college discounted its tuition rate, a move that exacerbated its financial problems but did not succeed in attracting enough students.

As a small, rural, liberal arts women’s college, Sweet Briar was fighting an up-hill battle against many trends in higher education. Although all of these variables probably contributed to the lack of student interest, President James Jones, Jr. acknowledged that declining interest in single-sex education was decisive in its demise.

On another front, back on the 5th, Scott Carlson wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education that “Sweet Briar’s Demise Is a Cautionary Tale for Other Colleges”, saying:

[The scenario of this closure] suggested that Sweet Briar, with an $84-million endowment, was an early victim of a wave of closures about to sweep through higher education, claiming other colleges like it.

… Sweet Briar’s high-profile closure will probably be of concern to those colleges that share some of the characteristics that marked it as vulnerable: a tiny student population, a rural location, a questionable niche, and programs that may have been expensive to maintain, such as the college’s well-known equestrian program.

… Of course, this might not be the end for Sweet Briar. Already alumnae networks have started an online campaign to reboot the college. (If Antioch College can come back from the dead, surely Sweet Briar could.)

… [But] Kevin W. Crockett, an enrollment and college-marketing expert who is president of RuffaloCODY and Noel-Levitz Enrollment Management, said the economics of running a college the size of Sweet Briar are challenging, no matter what its setting and educational offerings are.

On the Junior Year in France. From a site that is no longer accessible:

Sweet Briar College JYF is the oldest coeducational intercollegiate study abroad program in Paris. Created in 1923 by the University of Delaware, JYF has been administered by Sweet Briar College since 1948.

And administered very well, by all accounts.

At the time, Ann was a student at William and Mary and her housemate in Paris (Benita Bendon Campbell, who pops up on this blog every so often) was a student at Bryn Mawr. There’s a 12/22/11 posting on this blog about Ann as she was setting out for France, and a 2/27/12 one from Bonnie about their six weeks in Tours before going on to Paris. I’m hoping to get more reminiscences about their time in Paris, which was enormously satisfying.

Ann is gone, but Bonnie and I are sad indeed to hear that this excellent program has probably come to an end. Academic programs abroad are expensive to administer (these are big enterprises at Stanford), so that Sweet Briar’s JYF provided an excellent solution for smaller colleges and universities.

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