Women's college OKs plan to become fully coeducational

| Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013, 8:32 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — Trustees at a small, 143-year-old women's college in central Pennsylvania have approved a plan that will convert the school to a fully coeducational institution, officials said on Sunday.

Wilson College officials said the liberal arts school in Chambersburg would begin enrolling males without an age restriction as commuter students in the fall of this year, and in autumn 2014 will admit male residential students. Wilson currently allows men to be commuter students if they are children of staffers or at least 22 years old. About 11.7 percent of students are male.

The college is about 55 miles southwest of Harrisburg and was founded in 1869.

In addition to expanding coeducation across all programs, Wilson College plans to reduce tuition, set up a student loan buyback program, add academic programs — a number of them in health sciences — and improve facilities.

“All of the measures together are aimed at significantly increasing our enrollment — that's the No. 1 goal,” said college President Barbara Mistick, who declined to reveal the exact vote by the 28 trustees but said it was more than the required two-thirds majority.

The school has run operational budget deficits in three of the past four years and has a $31 million debt, $10 million in deferred maintenance and a $12 million library project.

Enrollment is about 700, including 320 in the College for Women, 300 in the adult degree program and more than 70 taking graduate programs. The plan is to double enrollment by 2020.

Mistick acknowledged that a transition to coeducation was an emotional question for a women's college but said changes were needed for the institution's future.

“We're going to have work to do to keep everyone in the Wilson family, and we certainly want to do that,” she said. “And I do think at the end of the day that our alumnae really care about the institution, and sometimes,we have to change over time. The conditions that were in place and the way society was when we were formed in 1869 is not exactly the way it is today in 2013, so I do think this is a great move for the college's long-term survival.”

Trustee Amy Boyce of Fayetteville also declined to reveal the vote total or her stance but said several trustees became emotional after the decision was made.

“There used to be 240 women's colleges in the country,” she said. “There were only 46 as of yesterday, and now there are 45.”

Opponents, Boyce said, still saw a role for a women's college despite changes in the culture: to help girls who are hesitant to raise their hands in class because they lack encouragement from teachers or fear the reaction of male students.

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