The higher education downsizing trend hits Sweet Briar College.

by Grace

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

ADDED:  Tennessee Temple University is closing

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.


Scott Jaschik, “Shocking Decision at Sweet Briar”, Inside Higher Ed, March 4, 2015.


5 Comments to “The higher education downsizing trend hits Sweet Briar College.”

  1. I saw the article in th Chronicle yesterday, and after wading through all the comments, realized that Sweet Briar had some special problems. It was evidently more of a genteel finishing school than a rigourous college, and as a throwback to the Old South and a kind of vision of old fashioned Southern culture, it just didn’t have a niche any more. A number of commenters noted that young women today who would consder a women’s college are usually interested in a more strongly feminist campus culture. Sweet Briar just couldn’t provide what the current market for women’s colleges wants.


  2. Yes, it was unusual in some ways. Students could board their horses, apparently. It reminded me of some elite boarding schools for girls.


  3. They lost their niche when UVa, VMI and W&L went coed. There were too many women’s’ colleges in Virginia and not all could survive. A few went coed, and the others have done a better job of marketing/adapting.


  4. BL — That makes sense. Although SBC’s situation is unusual, I do believe the predictions that there are many other colleges in untenable situations that will be closing.


  5. I think small, very niche schools are always at risk. Didn’t some really famous progressive leftist college fold recently? I also can remember when Uppsala College folded, a school with a great reputation, back in the 90’s.

    Back in the 80’s, there were lots of dire predictions that colleges would all fold. We were deep in the Baby Bust then, and tuitions were already perceived as being too high. There were certainly some closures and consolidations. But not a lot changed.


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