Sweet Briar College to close
Officials at Sweet Briar College announced Tuesday that the college will close on Aug. 25.
“This is a sad day for the entire Sweet Briar College community,” Paul G. Rice, the college’s board chair, said in a statement. “The board closely examined the college’s financial situation and weighed it against our obligations to current and prospective students, parents, faculty and staff, alumnae, donors and friends. We voted to act now to cease academic operations responsibly, allowing us to place students at other academic institutions, to assist faculty and staff with the transition and to conduct a more orderly winding down of academic operations.”
The college’s president James F. Jones Jr. said in a statement that he and Sweet Briar’s board worked to find answers to the challenges the school faced, but to no avail. “This work led us to the unfortunate conclusion that there are two key realities that we could not change: the declining number of students choosing to attend small, rural, private liberal arts colleges and even fewer young women willing to consider a single-sex education, and the increase in the tuition discount rate that we have to extend to enroll each new class is financially unsustainable,” he said.
Two other liberal arts colleges in Virginia have ceased operations in the past two years—Virginia Intermont College in Bristol and Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville. The closing will leave the state with two women’s colleges: Hollins University in Roanoke and Mary Baldwin. in Staunton. According to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, Sweet Briar enrolled 672 full-time students last fall compared to 686 in the fall of 2013.
Sweet Briar says that after March 15, when Spring Break ends, it will begin efforts to help its students transfer to other colleges and universities. It also will host on-campus college fairs to help match current students with transfer opportunities and help students admitted for fall 2015 find a new academic institution.
The college, which was founded in 1901,said its class of 2015 will be the final graduating class, and the commencement ceremony on May 16 will be the last one held on campus. A final on-campus reunion will take place May 29-31 and the college will close on Aug. 25 to allow students to finish their summer credit hours.
Sweet Briar hopes to provide severance and outplacement services to faculty and staff but is still working out the details.
In late 2013, Virginia Business interviewed Jo Ellen Parker, then president of Sweet Briar, about the financial and enrollment challenges faced by same-sex colleges. Parker, who left Sweet Briar the following year to become president of Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, said women’s colleges were an important option in higher education.
“What’s not clear is how many institutions in that ecosystem we need to meet the need,” she said. “It’s not clear how many dedicated to that mission will ultimately sustain themselves.”