Sweet Briar College announced Tuesday that it is shutting down at the end of this academic year.
This closure “stunned many in higher education”.
Small colleges close or merge from time to time, more frequently since the economic downturn started in 2008. But the move is unusual in that Sweet Briar still has a meaningful endowment, regional accreditation and some well-respected programs. But college officials said that the trend lines were too unfavorable, and that efforts to consider different strategies didn’t yield any viable options. So the college decided to close now, with some sense of order, rather than drag out the process for several more years, as it could have done.
The future looked bleak for Sweet Briar, consistent with Moody’s dire predictions of a higher education “death spiral” that is considered “particularly acute at small, mid-tier private’ colleges“.
Too far from Starbucks
Sweet Briar officials cited overarching challenges that the college has been unable to handle: the lack of interest from female high school students in attending a women’s college like Sweet Briar, declining interest in liberal arts colleges generally, and eroding interest in attending colleges in rural areas. Sweet Briar is in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. “We are 30 minutes from a Starbucks,” said James F. Jones Jr., president of the college.
Families have a “declining interest” in paying big bucks for a lower-tier college education. The annual cost of attending Sweet Briar College was $51,000 in 2013-14. However, the school’s average discount on tuition had grown to 62%. That was clearly unsustainable.
Here’s advice from Business Insider:
A college with a $94 million endowment is shutting its doors, and people in higher ed should be scared
Students have the option to move to Piedmont with assured admittance and continue their education at a discounted price, but the merger effectively means that come May 1, Tennessee Temple University will no longer exist.