President Free Speaks with Higher Ed Dive About Women’s Colleges Going Coeducational

The number of women’s colleges has dwindled, raising questions about the best way to adapt to a changing enrollment and social climate.

In the 19th century, women’s colleges numbered in the hundreds. By 2014, there were only 42, according to federal data. In 2021, there were 35.

Some of those institutions closed entirely. Others became coeducational as single-sex postsecondary education collapsed starting in the 1960s. 

Since the beginning of 2021, two other institutions have moved to take their names off the list of women’s colleges. 

Mills College, a private college in California, merged with Northeastern University last year to become a coeducational campus after declaring a financial emergency in 2017. Notre Dame of Maryland University announced just this September that it will be transitioning to coeducation and inviting men into its undergraduate program next year. 

Many women’s colleges that consider coeducation are motivated by enrollment declines and accompanying financial troubles. Changing admissions criteria may help with those challenges, but the choice is not without its drawbacks. Coeducation often means a fundamental change in a college’s mission, and it’s one not everyone will be happy about. 

Some feel the cost is worth the benefits. 

It’s been as successful as we had hoped and probably more so.

Rhona Free, President of University of Saint Joseph

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