Breaking Campus News. Launching Media Careers.
Sweet Briar College brought the bling to students and faculty before its demise

The pending shuttering of women’s-only Sweet Briar College – best known to College Fix readers for a hate-crime hoax – is sending a panic wave through the constellation of boutique liberal-arts colleges and their stakeholders.

They fear that more schools – especially in rural areas or whose students need heavy financial aid – could be on the chopping block, even with ostensibly healthy endowments.

According to The Atlantic, however, the rural Virginia college made it rain like a tech billionaire in a strip club:

Students can exercise and hang out with friends at the Fitness and Athletic Center. They can run on the three-lane elevated track or play a game of racquetball or squash on two courts. They can shoot hoops in a gym that was remodeled in 2009 and swim a few laps in the school’s Prothro Natatorium. Afterward, they can grab a coffee at the bistro or do some studying at The Mary Cochran Library, which was built in 1929 by Cram and is one of four libraries housed at the campus.

Other facilities include the Babock Fine Arts Center, where students can find the Black Box Theatre; three dance studios; and the 652-seat Murchison Lane Auditorium. At the Harriet Howell Rodgers Riding Center, students can enjoy the country’s largest indoor college equestrian arena, which includes an enclosed lunging ring, seven teaching fields, and miles of trails. Its stables house 60 horses, 40 of which are owned by the college.

For a school whose best enrollment never even cracked 700, and now hovers around 530, Sweet Briar has a ridiculously broad academic portfolio:

The school boasts 46 majors, minors, and certificate programs in areas ranging from arts management to Asian studies. …

Despite the shrinking numbers, the school maintained a full faculty and staff to support those students. Although the average class size is 11, Sweet Briar continued running courses that enrolled significantly fewer students; some classes had only one woman signed up. While a few of the younger hires, due to budget cuts or opportunities elsewhere, started to leave roughly two years ago, most of the faculty remained. This spring, roughly 110 faculty, 80 of whom work at Sweet Briar full-time, are conducting classes on campus. They’re joined by a full roster of administrators who provide services ranging from academic advisement to alumni outreach, as well as a sizable staff that provides campus upkeep. The school also employs two chaplains, as well as three postal workers.

All while it kept shelling out more in financial aid to woo students for whom Wellesley and Smith were out of reach, despite having a heavily restricted endowment.

The school encouraged faculty to stay on the Titanic:

One source estimated that as many as 40 percent of the school’s faculty lives on campus in private houses or apartments, some of which have to be vacated by August. It’s a particularly thorny situation because the college, according to one professor, encouraged faculty to build their own homes on school grounds—land that the institution owns. The school apparently promised faculty members that, if they were to relocate, it would offer them a fair market price for their homes; they’ll learn in April whether that’s the case. [Educational outreach director Lynn] Rainville speculates that these homeowners may get pennies on the dollar from whatever developer buys the property.

An expensive, painful lesson about living within one’s means – and a strong argument in favor of schools loading up on adjuncts.

Read the story.

Like The College Fix on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter

IMAGE: Mary Helen Cochran Library/Flickr

Please join the conversation about our stories on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, MeWe, Rumble, Gab, Minds and Gettr.

About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg Piper served as associate editor of The College Fix from 2014 to 2021.