The Randolph-Macon Woman’s College board of trustees will vote tomorrow (Saturday) on whether to admit male students for the first time in the institution’s 115-year history. If the majority vote is “yes,” men may start arriving on campus as soon as fall 2007.
The vote comes a year after the college analyzed its financial position, researched its markets, solicited input from faculty and students, and studied the experiences of other all-women’s colleges. It now seeks to be a coeducational institution with a global honors emphasis.
Interim college president and alum Ginger Worden says that although she cherishes her experiences as a student in the 1960s, she had to come to terms with the fact that the college needs to attract more students and generate more money by going co-ed.
“We wanted to remain single sex, but after having looked at the data and research, we fully appreciate the course the [board of trustees] is taking,” she says.
Jolley Christman, the board of trustees president and a 1969 graduate, says “tears have been shed” during the decision-making process, adding that she understands the widespread protests from alumni and students.
“Our alums are very connected to the college, and they are accomplished women,” she says. “They are proud of being part of a women’s college, and losing that is a very hard loss.”
But the reality, she says, is that the environment has changed since the 1970s, when there were 300 women’s colleges, compared to only 60 now. According to the research, only 3 percent of high school students consider a women’s college.
“In order to attract high-caliber students, financial aid and endowment, we have to change. Young women are telling us they want to be educated with men,” Christman says.
Christman and Worden also say it is unfair to compare the institution to top-tier women’s institutions such as Wellesley College and Spelman College, which are in metropolitan areas and receive larger endowments.
“Going co-ed will only help enrollment,” says Worden. “We will academically remain strong.”
Virginia still has three other private women’s undergraduate campuses: Hollins University, Mary Baldwin College and Sweet Briar College. Hollins and Mary Baldwin admit men to some programs.
Hollins officials sent a letter to alumnae last month reiterating the college’s commitment to remaining a women’s institution.
“We believe there are many young women out there who want, need and thrive in a women’s college environment,” said the letter by president Nancy Oliver Gray and trustees board chair Elizabeth Valk Long. “Let us assure you that Hollins is and will be here for them.”
— By Shilpa Banerji
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