Sweet Briar College, the all-female college sprawling on more than 3,000 acres of former plantation land north of Lynchburg, will close after 114 years.
The news March 4 stunned students and faculty alike. Forbidding trends, however, had been in place long before. Demographics, declining enrollment and funding quagmires are besetting colleges everywhere, especially those that occupy niche sectors of the market.
In this state, St. Paul’s College, a historically black college in Lawrenceville, and Virginia Intermont College in Bristol have closed their doors. Virginia State University in Petersburg faced a shakeup and the resignation of its president last fall after declining enrollment created an unexpected budget shortfall of $19 million.
At Sweet Briar, enrollment dropped from 760 to 700 this academic year. Tuition and room and board is a hefty $47,000, but the school had been forced to discount that by 60 percent because it was drawing fewer students. On Tuesday, administrators announced the financial situation was unsustainable, despite an $84 million endowment.
Sweet Briar was known for its strong academics and even offered engineering.
It also had a reputation, admittedly dated, of being something of a finishing school to prepare spouses for members of the state’s and nation’s white upper and upper middle classes. An equestrian center, the school attracted affluent girls who loved riding. One student was Janet Lee Bouvier, whose daughter Jacqueline was the wife of John F. Kennedy and the nation’s first lady.
Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon’s Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.