Colleges For Women Thrive By Targeting Niche Populations

March 13, 2009

At a time when many private colleges are struggling to attract students, some women's colleges such as Trinity Washington University in the District of Columbia are reporting increased enrollment.

According to U.S. News & World Report, many of today's women's colleges are surviving by educating specific populations of women who are still underserved. For example, at Trinity, 85 percent of the student body is either Hispanic or African-American, and many are the first in their family to attend college. The school's enrollment has risen by approximately 40 percent since 2000 to this year's record high of 600 students.

The college recently revised its first-year curriculum to better assist the many students needing to improve reading, writing and math skills. "It's not that these women aren't smart or can't do it," noted Pat McGuire, president of Trinity. "It's that no one ever sat them down and explained how to do it."

At Nebraska's College of St. Mary, comprehensive support is provided for single mothers seeking a college education. The school's Mothers Living and Learning program allows women to live with their children with other single mothers in on-campus dormitories, receive free meals for their children in the college's dining hall, and enroll their children in nearby day-care facilities.

Susan Williams, who lives in a St. Mary's dormitory with two of her children as she studies to be an occupational therapist, told U.S. News & World Report that she was attracted to the specialized program for single mothers. Prior to enrolling at St. Mary's, she attended the University of Missouri, but lacked emotional and academic support.

"Women need women's colleges because for some women like me, it's the only way they will see where they can go in life," Williams said.

At Virginia's Mary Baldwin College, 75 percent of the student body receives need-based financial aid, and next year they will be eligible to receive additional aid through the "Boldly Baldwin" program beginning in the fall. Pamela Fox, president of the college, noted that the program is just one example of the many ways women's colleges use innovative ideas to attract new students.

For many female students, the appeal of a women's college is clear. This week, Wellesley College in Massachusetts invited speakers to share their experiences serving on a 1969 commission considering whether or not to admit men. The Wellesley Townsman reports that Susae Elanchenny, a Wellesley senior who helped sponsor the event, commented on the significance of that decision.

"When I came to Wellesley, I knew it had always been a women's college and it was so clear to me what that meant - it was about women who will make a difference in the world," she said. "Being a women's college is so essential to Wellesley's identity."

This article was compiled by Yaffa Klugerman
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