My thoughts are in italics.
Lawsuits blamed for lower Randolph enrollmentAugust 31, 2008 - 2:17pm
Associated Press Writer
ROANOKE, Va. (AP) - Lawsuits that challenged Randolph College's decisions to go coed and to sell valuable artwork have been resolved, but they apparently are having a lingering effect. The school's enrollment this fall is the lowest in about four decades, and officials say that's because prospective students were confused about the school's future.
"The lawsuits definitely impacted our enrollment because of the uncertainty they brought," spokeswoman Brenda Edson said.
The private Lynchburg liberal arts college will have fewer than 600 students this fall, compared with 660 last year and 700 in 2006 when it was still a women's school. About 100 students in the classes that begin Monday will be men, with 47 in the freshman class of about 180.
While the decision to go coed was made to increase the student body and put the school on a firmer financial basis, Edson said enrollment doesn't tell the whole story.
The school will actually get more tuition revenue this year with fewer students, she said, because it has been able to reduce financial aid. In two years, Edson said, the school has reduced the amount of financial aid for students from an average of 67 percent to a little more than 40 percent of the $26,870 tuition. That brings the average payment this year to about $11,000.
John Klein, who became Randolph's president a year ago, said while he had hoped enrollment would increase this fall he was not surprised by the dip, "given all of the transition issues."
"The past two years have been two years like no other," said Edson, referring to a firestorm set off by an announcement in September 2006 that Randolph-Macon Woman's College would change its name and admit men.
The decision to go coed was forced by dire financial circumstances that were draining the $153 million endowment, but officials feared that alone would not persuade its accrediting agency to lift a warning issued to the school. The trustees decided last fall to sell four paintings from the school's museum collection, further angering alumnae and stirring criticism from the art world. And the fact that no museum will ever lend us art again....
The anger took the form of lawsuits seeking to overturn the coed decision and a court challenge to block the sale of artwork. In addition, the school took further steps to cut spending by reducing faculty and staff and eliminating some programs. Yes, we kind of looked ridiculous emphasizing "global honors" while trashing German and Russian languages and the American Culture department.
"It was a very difficult year," Klein said, but added: "A whole lot was accomplished." Such as....?
Randolph's officials believe they can look forward to easier times ahead.
The accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, lifted its yearlong warning status for Randolph last winter.
Opponents of the art sale withdrew their case in March, and the Virginia Supreme Court in June dismissed the challenges to Randolph's decision to admit men.
The school has sold one painting, Rufino Tamayo's "Trovador," for $7.2 million, and Klein said it will sell the other three when the market is right.
Edson said officials at other former women's schools, including Hood and Wells colleges, warned their Randolph counterparts that fallout from the transition to coeducation can last several years.
Neither of those schools had enrollment dips after they went coed. However, neither took other steps to raise money or cut costs. Great, so neither had the huge problems we did, but neither had the huge enrollment dips, either. Comforting.
"We've had a steady trajectory up," said Ann Rollo, spokeswoman for Wells College, in the Finger Lakes region of New York.
The school has an enrollment this year of 600 for the first time since 1972. It had 384 students before the liberal arts school began admitting men in the fall of 2005.
Enrollment at Hood, in Frederick, Md., has grown from 1,500 when the school went coed seven years ago to 2,600 this year, said spokesman Dave Diehl. Most of the growth has been in undergraduate programs, he said, but the college has a graduate program as well.
While acknowledging that the adjustment to coeducation was hard work, both Rollo and Diehl said their schools have thrived.
"It's a more vibrant campus," Diehl said. "There's more energy here."
Randolph officials say the atmosphere on their campus has become more positive, and the school has already had 21,000 inquiries from prospective students for next year. Two years ago, they got 8,000. Talking about inquiries is a great distraction from the fact that inquiries don't equal the amount of students paying to come to your school in the fall. An inquiry can equal a bored high schooler who ticked yes in an online box that they'd like to receive information from you.
"What I see is a whole different feeling about the year," Klein said. "Given that we don't have controversial decisions and we think that people are ready to move on, this year should be one that's fun." People are still angry. The decision to admit men to a 115 year old female institution is still controversial two years later.
Edson said more students began participating in campus events last year, and officials hope that will continue. The school is expanding its athletic program, with work under way on a $5 million track and athletic field with artificial turf. Why, why why?
Another daughter who is a junior at Smith enjoys college the way her sister did the first two years, McKean said.
"Smith makes women feel like they can do anything," she said. "Randolph-Macon used to do that."
The number of women's colleges in the nation has declined from about 300 in the early 1970s to about 60 today. The three in Virginia _ all private, liberal arts schools _ report they're holding their own.
Estimated enrollment was projected at 685 at Sweet Briar College and about 780 for residential undergraduates at Hollins University, which is on par with last year. Mary Baldwin College expected an increase in its residential undergraduates from 807 last year to about 850.