Are Women’s Colleges Doomed?

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When Sweet Briar College recently announced that it will be shutting its doors this summer, disheartened alumni nationwide expressed their grief. The 114-year old women’s college has faced financial problems and declining enrollment in recent years, despite its reputation as a top private liberal arts college. But the school’s closing raises a bigger question: What does the future hold – if anything –for women’s colleges?

 

A recent NPR report gives us a glimpse into what we can expect – and it’s pretty grim. When women’s colleges began popping up at the turn of the 20th century, they served as a way for unmarried women to get a more advanced education in a world where most of the nation’s elite universities didn’t accept women. It seems like a silly notion in 2015, but single-sex institutions were necessary.

 

However, as the women’s rights movement plowed forward, so, too, did the popularity of women’s colleges. And, these days, more women than men are seeking higher education. According to a 2012 study, 71 percent of women enrolled in college immediately following high school, compared to only 61 percent of men.

 

Simply put, society doesn’t see much of a need for women’s colleges anymore. In the 1960s, there were approximately 230 single-sex schools in the U.S. and Canada, but today, only 44 remain. Advocates preach the value of young women seeking education in a female-only environment, citing that they promote strong values, independence, and confidence – however these benefits don’t seem to resonate with high school girls nationwide applying to colleges.

 

Some schools, like Wilson College in Pennsylvania have chosen to adapt with the times and open their doors to men. However, transitioning into a coed college isn’t easy and isn’t an option for most schools.

 

The future of women-only educational institutions remains uncertain – and some experts predict that it’s not only single-sex schools that are in danger. According to a recent report, one-third of colleges and universities are in financial danger and will have some difficult decisions to make in the near future.

 

What do you think? Do we need to preserve same-sex institutions or is society just evolving with the times?

Meghan Schalk

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