Sweet Briar College, a small women’s college in Virginia, has announced that it will be closing this summer. Like many small colleges, Sweet Briar has been having trouble both maintaining enrollment and maintaining financial health at the same time. Small private colleges in rural areas seem to be getting less popular with many students. Private colleges without large endowments can be very dependent on tuition revenue and thus can be very sensitive to anything that could depress enrollment. The high cost of tuition is also a major issue nowadays, which might hurt these schools even more as students are less willing to pay the full cost of attendance.
It’s almost always sad to see a college close, but this one at least made the decision to close in such a way to hopefully give all stakeholders a chance to make arrangements to prepare for it. That’s much better than trying to stay open as long as possible by drawing the endowment down to nothing while cutting staff, stopping maintenance, and cutting back on course offerings. At least this way, the school is honest with students and faculty about the future.
Many people expect to see more small colleges like Sweet Briar College close in the coming years. Many have already been trying to alter their academic missions in order to shore up enrollment and finances.