Cities Journal

Sweet Briar Alumnae Fighting To Keep College Open


Sweet Briar College near Lynchburg, Virginia has for more than a century provided its exclusively female students with exquisite liberal arts education, an incredible campus in one of the most untouched parts of the country and a place that most of them called their second home after graduating. Since its inception in 1901, it has truly been one of those rare colleges that are absolutely unique and special for everyone involved.

Well, it seems that those days are over for Sweet Briar College.

The officials announced earlier this month that in August of this year, the college will be closing its door for good. In short, Sweet Briar College is in its last year and next semester, they will be enrolling no students.

The leadership of the college, headed by the interim president James F. Jones Jr. came forward and told the students and faculty that the college will be shutting down permanently in August due to “insurmountable financial challenges”.

The news came as a shock to hundreds of students as well as the faculty who have always taken special pride in teaching at such a unique place. Their shock soon turned into anger and subsequently action. The alumnae have hired a legal team that will try to find out whether the college, which only last year received almost $85 million in endowments, has been run poorly and whether it really has to close.

While that is going on, the alumnae of Sweet Briar have already started fundraising projects that are aimed at keeping their alma mater alive. $3.1 million have already been raised and they hope to make $20 million more through their website Save Sweet Briar. Former students have been organizing their own smaller actions and fundraisers to try and give a helping hand.

Unfortunately, it seems that this is an uphill battle that they are bound to lose. For one, the interest for exclusively one-gendered colleges has dropped dramatically, with fewer and fewer students enrolling each year, making such colleges difficult to keep afloat financially. College president Jones said that this dwindling enrollment is the primary reason for Sweet Briar shutting down. He also added that the college would require an immediate sum of $250 million just to keep its door open.

Education experts agree and they say that a vast number of smaller, private colleges around the United States are in a very similar situation to Sweet Briar, only with a few years to spare. For instance, according to a study done by Inside Higher Ed this year, less than 40% of college presidents feel that their college’s financial model will be sustainable in the next 10 years.

For Sweet Briar College, it seems, the time has already come.

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