"I’m sorry," Ms. Worden, an alumna of Randolph-Macon, said she mouthed silently to the student, as tears came to her own eyes.
A moment later, the president and the protester hugged, in quiet commiseration over the demise of single-sex education at a college once known as "the Vassar of the South," when Vassar enrolled only women.
Decades after Ivy League institutions like Yale and Princeton opened to women, the number of women’s colleges has shrunk from about 300 in the 1960’s to fewer than 60 today. The top institutions that do not admit men – Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, Mount Holyoke and Smith – say they are doing fine. But behind them are small liberal arts colleges for women, like Randolph-Macon, increasingly struggling against financial pressures to win applicants in an era of unbounded choice. And in recent months, their numbers have been dwindling precipitously.
Just before Randolph-Macon’s vote, Regis College outside Boston announced that it would begin admitting men next September. At Rutgers University, the women’s undergraduate college, Douglass, will cease to exist as a separate degree-granting institution at the end of this academic year. This spring, Tulane University merged its H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College with the undergraduate college for men.
Wells College, on Cayuga Lake in upstate New York, was established in 1868 and began admitting men last year. And at Marymount College for women in Tarrytown, N.Y., which merged with Fordham University in 2002, next spring’s graduation will be the last, after 100 years.
For these institutions, the decision to admit men is not without risk. Many of the women enrolled are passionate about single-sex education and have bitterly opposed the changes with petitions, protests and lawsuits. Alumnae, who may be even more passionate, have threatened to withhold donations.
But college trustees and administrators say they have little choice. Only 3.4 percent of girls graduating from high school last year who took the SAT said they would apply to women’s colleges, according to the | |