Giving Voice to a New Generation
Metro Atlanta's three women's colleges are going strong, even while the number of women's colleges nationwide has declined.
You don't have to look very hard to see that women's colleges in the U.S. are disappearing.
In 1960, the nation boasted 200 institutions that admit only women. Today, that number has dwindled to about 60. Increasing competition, both in the higher education marketplace and for funding support, is often cited as the main reason women's colleges have chosen to accept men or have closed their doors altogether.
But in metro Atlanta, women's colleges are thriving more than ever. Three ARCHE members - Agnes Scott College, Brenau University and Spelman College - all continue to draw strong applicant pools as well as all-important dollars from loyal alumni and other funding sources.
In fact, the Atlanta region has one of the highest concentrations of women's colleges in the nation. Add Wesleyan College in Macon, and statewide, Georgia has four - tied for second (with North Carolina, New York and New Jersey) in the number of women's colleges. Only Pennsylvania and Massachusetts have more (six each).
That's notable, given the value of women's colleges. A study by the nonprofit Women's College Coalition showed that 53 percent of women's college graduates go on to earn a graduate degree, compared to 38 percent of women who graduate from other liberal arts colleges (and 28 percent of women who graduate from flagship public universities).
And while women's colleges educate less than 1 percent of female college students in the U.S., their graduates are disproportionately represented in positions of influence. Women's college grads account for 20 percent of the women in Congress and 20 percent of Fortune Magazine's "Most Powerful Women in Business."
A look at ARCHE's three women's colleges:
> Agnes Scott College (founded 1889) in Decatur has graduated thousands of women who have gone on to successful careers and leadership positions. The student body at Agnes Scott is one of the most economically diverse among the nation's women's colleges: More than one-fourth (27percent) of students are recipients of Pell Grants. In recent years, Agnes Scott has embraced a more global view of academics. Today, nearly half of all students study abroad, often in far-flung places like Tanzania and Mongolia. Kay Krill, CEO of apparel giant Ann Taylor, is an Agnes Scott graduate. So are Rachelle Henderlite, the first woman ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church USA, and Susan Phillips, the first woman to chair a financial regulatory agency.
> Brenau University (founded 1878) in Gainesville has seen enrollment in its Women's College grow by more than 50 percent in just four years. Twenty-five percent of Brenau Women's College students are from minority groups (not including international students) and 15 percent are older than 25. The college credits its enrollment growth to a concerted effort to respond to the marketplace. One example: Brenau consulted with hospitals in the region to identify needs, then tailored its health-care degree programs to meet them. As a result, Brenau has a unique graduate program in nursing administration, a combined M.S.-B.S. degree in occupational therapy, and a wide array of nursing offerings.
> Spelman College (founded 1881) in Atlanta continues to be in high demand as one of the nation's few historically black colleges for women. More than 6,000 women apply to Spelman each year, only a tenth of whom ultimately enroll. Those numbers reflect the college's desire to maintain a student-faculty ratio of just 11 or 12 students to every faculty member. Spelman has also enjoyed broad and deep support from individuals and organizations, including an anonymous gift of $17 million. Well-known Spelman alumnae include Marion Wright Edelman, head of the Children's Defense Fund, and former U.S. Surgeon General (and former Spelman president) Audrey Manley.
One remarkable characteristic shared by Atlanta's women's colleges is longevity. All three were founded in the late 1800s, a time when the gates of college and university campuses were largely closed to women. (More on the history of women's colleges.) Today, women's colleges continue to provide women a place to find their voice.
"If you're a girl and you're used to boys sometimes having their voices heard over yours - well, it's a real pleasure to be in a situation where you don't have to fight to be heard," says Arlene Cash, vice president of enrollment management at Spelman. "You don't have to worry about how it sounds to be smart."
Still, the notion that women's colleges are purely "safe havens" for young women is a bit outdated, says Elizabeth Kiss, president of Agnes Scott College. "It's true that college should be nurturing for all students," she says, "but we really challenge our students to go outside their comfort zone."
Students who attend women's colleges give such institutions high marks for quality. A national survey of 42,000 students - many of them at 26 women's colleges - showed that students enrolled in women's colleges reported greater satisfaction with their college experience; more interaction with faculty; and more opportunities to develop leadership skills.
And for Men Only . . .
The nation's largest, private liberal arts college for men and the only one for African American men, Morehouse College gives metro Atlanta a fourth same-sex institution. With roots going back to 1867, Morehouse was recognized by The Wall Street Journal as one of the nation's top feeder schools for graduate education. The list of Morehouse graduates reads like a Who's Who of prominent African American leaders in the 20th century.
Learn more by visiting:
Agnes Scott College in Decatur
Brenau University in Gainesville
Spelman College in Atlanta
Wesleyan College, Georgia's other women's college, in Macon
The Women's College Coalition, which has 53 active members
U.S. Department of Education site that offers a rich history of women's colleges in the United States