Students, faculty, and alumnae of Sweet Briar College in Virginia were shocked earlier this week to learn the 114-year-old liberal arts women’s college would be closing its doors this August. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Sweet Briar board had been working for eight months weighing emergency options to combat the college’s plummeting enrollment and various financial issues. Ultimately it found there was no way to achieve the levels of sustainability needed to keep the school running.
Sweet Briar’s death knell could be a warning sign to other small, rural liberal arts colleges that have found themselves under-enrolled and unequipped to meet mounting financial challenges. Among the myriad reasons cited by school officials for the closing, the one that best summarizes the situation is “declining interest in these types of colleges.” The issues that plagued Sweet Briar are not Sweet Briar’s alone.
The college’s 523 students will be offered opportunities to transfer to several partner institutions. The 300 members of the faculty and staff will lose their jobs, but the Chronicle notes that the college will try to offer severance packages to all affected. One would hope so considering the $86 million Sweet Briar has in its endowment, though about $56 million of that sum has been earmarked by donors for specific uses.
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