Sunday, March 8, 2015

#Savingsweetbriar: Sweet Briar College at risk

Sweet Briar is a lovely campus with equestrian trails and facilities.
First of all, I'm not a Sweet Briar graduate, and before this week, I had only a passing familiarity with it. I knew it as a small, private women's college with a nationally recognized equestrian program and focus on the liberal arts.  Some readers might have seen ads for Sweet Briar in the Chronicle of the Horse, Practical Horseman, and other publications.

I have since learned that Sweet Briar has a strong reputation academically, and that it offers programs in engineering -- a cool thing for a women's college -- as well as business. Sweet Briar ranks among the top 20 women's colleges, and it enjoys other top rankings (e.g., most accessible faculty) in the Princeton Review. It is often ranked at the  top of "most beautiful campus" rankings. 

What just happened?
A few days ago, college administrators abruptly announced the closure of the hundred-year-plus institution, blindsiding staff, faculty, and students alike. Schools close occasionally -- especially small institutions -- and I'm familiar with some of the dynamics that precede closure of an academic institution. I've seen it happen and read case studies about how it goes down.

It doesn't happen overnight, for sure. Generally there is a downward spiral that is more or less public knowledge. You see colleges start cutting back, eliminating positions, deferring projects, and taking austerity measures. You see open discussions of declining enrollment, a spiral that is hard to break out of.

 Not at Sweet Briar. No ominous statements from administration. No public discussion. Outward signs were good -- bonds market ratings were high, financial its Forbes financial grade was an A. The announcement came as a shock to most. And for a President in the office only eight months to make this decision? As a colleague of mine with years of experience in higher ed commented, "Curious. Why are they throwing in the towel so soon?"

My first thought, given the situation, is who might be desirous of the beautiful campus -- real estate...

I've been following this story and feeling solidarity with students and alums. Niche colleges like Sweet Briar have a tough go, but they also bring and incredible, rare experience to young women. Their niche market is a certain type of young woman -- the admissions office reaches out to women who ride, girl scouts, and women who are environmentally aware. We need this kind of institution, this kind of academic focus, and I'm sorry Sweet Briar College is at risk.

One alum wrote that the classes were seminars where students sat with professors and discussed topics -- no lectures.  She wrote:

"It is the kind of place where girls could ride and attend class in their jodphurs. I'm not kidding."

Good luck to the sister alumnae in #savingsweetbriar


  1. When I went on college visits during my junior year of HS, Sweet Briar was one of the colleges I went to visit. It was a LOVELY campus and everyone was very friendly. The riding facilities were pretty nice from what I remember. I was accepted, but ultimately chose to stay close to home as I didn't want to sell my horse and paying to board there would have been quite pricey.

    Sad to read that it's closing, and so suddenly. I agree that it definitely smells fishy...

  2. Makes me quite sad. I used to pass it on Rt 29 here in VA on my way south to NC and loved the campus and over the years knew many women that benefited from their education there. They revamped that portion of Rt 29, adding a bypass, so I no longer see the campus. Women can so benefit from an all woman experience in education. I attended a private girls high school, and wish that I had continued in that vein for college, but chose instead to attend a very large co-ed university. Big mistake for me in many ways, even though I value my degree and education there. I hope this is not a case of the land value……keep us informed.

  3. I wonder what they're doing with the school horses. I believe there are quite a few...


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