Tuesday, March 17, 2015

More on higher education... the closure of Sweet Briar College...

I have been meaning to write about the news that Sweet Briar College is closing.  I grew up in Virginia and spent most of my childhood riding horses.  I was familiar with Sweet Briar back in the day because they have a fantastic riding program.  I thought that was something I'd want to do in college.  It turned out I would give up horses when I went to school and Sweet Briar, being a private women's college, was a little too rich for my blood, anyway.  I wanted to go to a co-ed school, too.

Virginia has historically had a number of same sex colleges.  When I was in school back in the 90s, for women alone, we had Hollins College (now university), Mary Baldwin College, Randolph-Macon Women's College, Sweet Briar College,  and Southern Seminary Junior College (now Southern Virginia University).  We also had Virginia Military Institute and Hamden-Sydney College for men.   My own alma mater, Longwood University, was a women's school until 1976.  Indeed, a number of schools in Virginia have gone co-ed, mainly to stay afloat in today's competitive higher education market.

I see the value of single sex education.  I recognized it in the 1990s, when Virginia Military Institute (where my dad went to college) was fighting against going co-ed.  Since it was a publicly supported college and women pay taxes too, they had to go co-ed or forfeit state money.  My dad was pretty devastated, but VMI and The Citadel in South Carolina both decided to let women in.  I think everyone has adjusted now.

In Sweet Briar's case, I think it's just gotten way too expensive to be the school they've historically been.  Still, it's obvious that the alumni are not going to let the school go into history without a strong fight.

I read about a young woman who had decided she only wanted to go to Sweet Briar.  She had applied, was accepted, and was given lots of financial aid.  She was all set to go... and then the news about the school's closure got out.  Now she's left without a college.

Like the young woman I posted about yesterday, this girl had put all her eggs in one basket.  Of course, no one knew the school was about to close.  Sweet Briar hadn't advertised its financial woes and was accepting applications for next year.  So I can see why prospective students are now blindsided.  I guess if there's one thing to learn about these situations, it's that you need to apply to more than one college.  You need to apply for scholarships and financial aid.  And you need to have a back up plan.

Sadly, I think a lot of traditional colleges and universities may end up becoming obsolete because they are expensive to run and maintain and so many people need to be able to work full time in order to afford to go to school.  I think it's a real shame.  For me, going to a small college in a rural town was a great experience.  It gave me a place to grow up, rather than just a place to learn new skills.  A friend of mine went to Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Virginia, another school known for its great riding program.  That school closed not too long ago, too.  

I don't know what's going to happen at Sweet Briar.  I hope something can be done to save the school.  It'll be interesting to see what happens in the coming months.   

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