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R-MWC in the News: New York Times

More Small Women's Colleges Opening Doors to Men

9/21/2006 12:11:04 PM

September 21, 2006
New York Times
"More Small Women's Colleges Opening Doors to Men"
LYNCHBURG, Va. -- When the board at Randolph-Macon Woman's College announced its decision this month to admit men, the college's interim president, Ginger Worden, looked at a distraught student protester nearby, tears rolling down the young woman's face.

"Iím 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 womenís colleges has shrunk from about 300 in the 1960ís to fewer than 60 today. The top institutions that do not admit men Ė Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Barnard, Mount Holyoke and Smith Ė 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-Maconís vote, Regis College outside Boston announced that it would begin admitting men next September. At Rutgers University, the womenís 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 springís 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 womenís colleges, according to the | |

CONTACT: Brenda Edson, Director of College Relations