Wilson College's Trustees Postpone Decision on Admitting Men

December 03, 2012

Wilson College's Board of Trustees decided on Saturday to postpone for six weeks a controversial decision to admit men, one of a number of changes the 695-student women's college is debating as it seeks to increase enrollment and assure itself a fiscally sustainable future.

While board members met, a group of about two dozen alumnae and students opposed to coeducation held a quiet vigil on the lawn outside. Some 700 of the college's 8,000-plus alumnae and students have signed an online document calling for Wilson to remain a women's college, and some students opposed to coeducation hung banners out of dormitory windows demanding that their voices be heard.

Other students and alumnae, though, say they are persuaded by arguments that only a tiny minority of high-school women are interested in attending a single-sex college, and that the only way to deal with Wilson's annual budget deficits and enormous deferred-maintenance backlog is to become coeducational in name as well as in practice. Men are already admitted to the college's adult-degree program.

The trustees said they wanted more time to consider a wide-ranging plan recommended in November by Wilson's president, Barbara K. Mistick, after a months-long examination of the college's situation by a commission of faculty members, alumnae, students, staff members, and trustees. The board, about half of whose members are alumnae, scheduled another meeting for January 13.

Based on the commission's suggestions, Ms. Mistick proposed:

  • Admitting men to the college's traditional undergraduate program, which has just over 300 students this semester.
  • Adding new academic programs in disciplines for which the college foresees demand, including the health sciences.
  • Reducing the "sticker price" for tuition—though not net tuition revenue—and creating a program under which the college would buy back a portion of loans taken out by students who completed their studies.
  • Improving the college's facilities, many of which are in poor condition. The library has been closed altogether for nearly two years because of leaks in its steam-heat system; the field house was built in 1966 for a neighboring private school that subsequently closed; and the only wheelchair access to one of the main academic buildings is through the middle of its lecture hall.

John Gibb, the trustees' chairman, said in a written statement that board members wanted to "review and analyze all of the material to enable the board to give greater consideration to the information presented before charting a course for the financial well-being and academic health of the institution."

Earlier this fall, consultants hired by Wilson upped their estimate of how many students the college needed to enroll by 2020 if it hoped to remain sound. Two years ago, a strategic plan approved by the trustees set the target at 1,000, while the initial estimate from the current consultants was 1,325. By mid-October, however, the figure was 1,500.