Sweet Briar College, an all-female bastion of the liberal arts since its founding in 1901, announced on Tuesday that it will permanently cease operations when the current academic year ends.
The surprising move for the school, which boasts a $94 million endowment, has come as a shock among comfortably-ensconced higher education bureaucrats on campuses everywhere, Inside Higher Education reports.
All employees at the tiny Southern Virginia college will lose their jobs (though school officials hope to offer benefits and severance pay). All 730 or students who don’t graduate in a few months will need to enroll somewhere else.
Sweet Briar has many laudable attributes: small class sizes, professors who know your name and a campus brimming with cool traditions.
However, it has faced declining enrollment. Interest in the liberal arts is dwindling. Interest among college-aged students in attending a women’s college has decreased. Also, students are increasingly loathe to spend four years in rural locations such as Sweet Briar’s in the foothills of the breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains.
A high price tag has also proven highly problematic. Like at most private colleges, the cost of attending Sweet Briar is very high. The total price for tuition, fees and room and board this year is $47,095, according to the school’s website. (As of early Wednesday morning, Sweet Briar webpages addressing tuition showed the words “503 Error” and “Page not found.”)
Though most students don’t pay the full sticker rate in the bizarre world of college pricing, Sweet Briar and other private colleges must offer large scholarships and grants because of their steep tuition. In recent years, Sweet Briar has been forced to cut such financial aid, resulting in fewer students enrolling.
School officials said the decision to shut down was a hard one, but they concluded they had no other choice.
Sweet Briar president James F. Jones Jr. said he and other officials considered a number of options, including coeducation, but decided none would be financially feasible.
“We would need scholarships to basically buy males,” Jones told Inside Higher Ed.
“The endowment we have never could have supported a move to coeducation,” the embattled president, who at one point recently had to work for a couple weeks without getting paid, added.
Jones also noted that a name like Sweet Briar might fail to impress potential male applicants.
The rural location has been a considerable stumbling block for the school, Jones believes, because students want access to the buzz of urban life.
“We are 30 minutes from a Starbucks,” he told Inside Higher Ed.
Jones said the loss of Sweet Briar is part of a larger move toward more uniformity among America’s college and universities.
“The landscape is changing and becoming more vanilla,” he lamented.
Paul G. Rice, chairman of the Sweet Briar board of directors, characterized the closure decision as prudent.
“We have moral and legal obligations to our students and faculties and to our staff and to our alumnae,” he told Inside Higher Ed. “If you take up this decision too late, you won’t be able to meet those obligations.”
The fate of the Sweet Briar campus and whatever is left of its endowment after creditors get their hands on it remains in flux.
The shuttering of Sweet Briar is likely to put great fear into the hearts of officials on private many college campuses, which are in the same basic financial boat as Sweet Briar has been, observes Inside Higher Ed.
In spring 2014, the National Association for College Admission Counseling published an annual list of its many, many member schools which were still accepting applications for first-year or transfer students. Sweet Briar was on that list. (RELATED: The Daily Caller Presents: 13 UNLUCKY Colleges)
Notable Sweet Briar alumnae include Janet Lee Bouvier, the mother of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.