Sweet Briar College Alumnae Rally & Raise $3 Million To Save Their School From Closing

When they found out earlier this month that the all-female Sweet Briar College in Virginia was closing, students, faculty and alumnae were understandably devastated at the news. But now, a new alumnae group calling itself "Saving Sweet Briar," has raised $3 million and is determined to help save the 112-year-old school from closing, The New York Times reported. The group is also seeking answers from the Sweet Briar administration, demanding that the college's finances be made public, and faculty members have voted unanimously to oppose the decision to close Sweet Briar.

In a statement, the Sweet Briar faculty requested a meeting with the board of directors, to discuss alternatives. But the administration, which said the school will have to close in August due to "insurmountable financial challenges," says the funds raised so far are not enough; its consultant estimates Sweet Briar needs $250 million to keep operating, the Times reported. When he announced the closure, Sweet Briar president James Jones cited two major factors which led to the school's financial woes.

…the declining number of students choosing to attend small, rural, private liberal arts colleges and even fewer young women willing to consider a single-sex education, and the increase in the tuition discount rate that we have to extend to enroll each new class is financially unsustainable.

According to the "Saving Sweet Briar" website, the school's board of directors did not tell the larger community about the financial difficulties prior to the abrupt closure announcement, and "no viable alternatives were considered to save the college." The group is skeptical of the $250 million figure, and an editorial in The Roanoke Times applauds the alumnae's efforts and calls on the Sweet Briar board to resign.

Sweet Briar’s alumnae are now actively engaged in trying to raise money to save the school. Let them take over. If the existing board is right, then a new board would surely come to the same, sobering conclusion.

The Roanoke Times editorial points out that the nearby University of Maryland, which has more than 27,000 undergraduate students (much larger than the 500-student Sweet Briar), has an endowment of $250 million, and questions why the smaller school would need the same amount of money to keep operating.

Sweet Briar’s mission statement says the school “empowers and educates young women to build and reshape their world however their passions lead them.” It seems like a determined number of the school's alumnae are doing just that, taking the skills they no doubt honed at Sweet Briar to try to save it.

Image: Mary Helen Cochran Library/Flickr