Wilson College has all the attributes needed to thrive as a women’s college and should not be destroyed by a rushed and unnecessary decision made by its President and members of its Board of Trustees.
On January 13, 2013, the Board of Trustees of Wilson College in Chambersburg, PA, in a divided vote, dissolved the college for women and replaced it with a co-educational college. This decision should be reversed.
The Board of Trustees' decision ignored studies showing that single-sex education remains a crucial option for young women. It ignored compelling data showing that women's colleges continue to produce graduates who lead in the workforce at disproportionately higher rates than their coed counterparts. It ignored a national trend of increased enrollment by women in a larger trend of leveling enrollments. Most of all, the decision ignored financial scenarios that show Wilson can thrive as a financially sustainable women's college with the passionate support of its alumnae, students, faculty, administrators and friends.
The Board of Trustees and President of the College made the decision Wilson should become co-educational based on the outcome of a process that was neither “open” nor “transparent.”
In early 2012, the President and Board of Trustees convened a Commission charged to develop recommendations “to achieve future enrollment goals, achieve financial sustainability and shape an optimum scenario for Wilson to thrive.” At forums held by the Commission to report on the strategic ideas under consideration, dozens of participants identified problems with the data, financial models, and assumptions underlying the Commission’s work. Participants also questioned the lack of notice to the community about the possible change in the College’s mission and the rush to conclude the Commission’s work. Just days after the Commission issued its confidential final report the President recommended to the Board of Trustees that Wilson be made co-educational.
Although the Commission and Board invited community input and emphasized its “open and transparent process,” the Chair of the Board of Trustees, in a letter to participants on December 6, 2012, made clear that no factors beyond the President’s recommendations and supporting information (which was undisclosed) would come to bear on the Board’s deliberations. An “open” process that invites and then ignores input is not an open process. A process that occurs behind closed doors is not “transparent.”
The Board of Trustees voted to make Wilson co-educational in response to a sense of crisis created by fiscal fear-mongering and deliberately misleading claims about the College’s current and projected financial health.
Wilson College faces major financial and enrollment challenges, but it has significant resources that will allow it to thrive. College administrators, however, have emphasized Wilson’s dire financial straits. With only selective financial projections to back up their assertion, the College President and some members of the Board of Trustees insisted that altering the core mission of the women’s college was the only financially sound choice for Wilson’s future.
The College endowment stands at over $60 million. Its assets include a beautiful 300-acre campus, a residential capacity for approximately 650 students, a state-of-the-art LEED-certified Science Complex, several National Historic Registry buildings, an award-winning equestrian center, the Hankey Center for the Advancement of Women, the Fulton Center for Sustainable Living, the Women with Children Program and over 6,500 alumnae, many of whom are steadfast supporters of the College and passionate about making the single-gender education option that is the core mission of the College available to future generations of young women.
There is time to get Wilson College back on track and take immediate advantage of the resources and energies of its devoted faculty, staff and alumnae who raised more than $81 thousand in 26 days in a show of support for the women’s college. In the current climate of renewed interest in women’s colleges, strategic investments in marketing, recruiting, retention and fundraising will position Wilson to thrive.
Keep Wilson College a women’s college – reverse the decision to end 144 years of dedication to women’s education!