Dr. Fox’s Reflections on the Status of Women’s Colleges
The Randolph-Macon Woman’s College Board of Trustees voted September 9 to begin admitting men as soon as fall 2007 to the historically all-female institution. Its decision prompted reflection by Mary Baldwin College President Pamela Fox – her remarks below originally appeared as an editorial inThe News Leaderin Staunton.
Yesterday the Board of Trustees at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College voted to admit men; Virginia has lost another of its single-sex institutions. The community of Mary Baldwin College is sensitive to our sister institution’s difficult decisions and emotional debate, and we continue to offer our support. The R-MWC Board has taken the route that it believes is best for the college it serves and guides, but that does not mean women’s colleges are no longer viable. Mary Baldwin chooses a different — more and more the less-traveled one — and all indicators tell us we are on course.
As we entered MBC’s 165th academic year, we welcomed 300 new students to the Residential College for Women, chosen from the largest number of applicants in the college’s history. Enrollment is up 10 percent. Retention has improved over the past two years by 10 percentage points. The 800 women on campus are joined by 1,200 adults and over 200 graduate students in Staunton and at our five regional centers across the Commonwealth.
Since 1842 Mary Baldwin has remained steadfastly committed to our historic mission: personalized education preparing women to lead lives of leadership as positive change agents throughout the world. Indeed personalized, transforming liberal education for women remains the vision of our 10-year strategic plan. A recent multi-million dollar gift and increasing numbers of donors are signs of the confidence and faith that alumnae/i and friends place in our future.
The heart of Mary Baldwin, the Residential College for Women, will remain single-sex. MBC welcomes men in our signature adult and graduate programs. Through entrepreneurial program diversification, we have built a solid financial base around our core mission of educating women.
A significant new study by the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research demonstrates that the predominance of women in undergraduate higher education should not lead people to believe there is no longer any need for women’s colleges. The study documents what we have known at Mary Baldwin for nearly two centuries: students at women’s colleges are more engaged and empowered for academic excellence than their peers at coeducational institutions.
Utilizing data from the National Survey of Student Engagement, the study sampled 42,100 students at 290 four-year colleges, both women’s colleges and coeducational institutions. The study documents that at women’s colleges, women learn more about themselves, hone their quantitative analysis skills, excel in math and science at significantly higher rates, develop strong efficacy to serve their communities, work more effectively in peer groups, interact more extensively with faculty and female role models inside and outside of class, and develop stronger leadership skills. The alumnae of Mary Baldwin’s Residential College embody these traits.
The study also shows that the environment at women’s colleges supports diverse interactions and understanding of diversity. Mary Baldwin is particularly proud that we serve women of promise from highly diverse backgrounds: women as young as 13 (in the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted), women preparing for lives of service in the military and public service (through the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership), older women (through the Adult Degree Program), women of color and international students, first-generation college students, and many others.
The findings offer substantial quantitative data to support many previous studies asserting that women’s colleges foster distinctive and powerful learning environments. Such conditions contribute to the statistical over-representation of women in high profile leadership positions. For instance, graduates of women’s colleges constitute more than 20 percent of women in Congress and 30 percent of a Business Week list of rising women stars in corporate America.
The study concludes that “women’s colleges are not an anachronistic postsecondary option. In many respects they are models of effective educational practice” and “have much to teach other types of colleges and universities.”
Mary Baldwin College will continue to focus on women of promise, opening avenues to achievement for them. And we will thrive because we do so.
Since this editorial appeared in The News Leader, in an e-mail letter to MBC alumnae/i, and online, the college has received several responses. The following is a sampling of those letters:
- Thank you so much, President Fox, for your meaningful words. Reading about the coming changes at R-MWC has made me very sad, but I continue to be a very proud alumna of Mary Baldwin and am so proud of how it continues to grow in stature while maintaining the values that each of us remembers from our years there. Both my daughter and I share our great love for the college and commend you on continuing the work of [President Emerita] Dr. [Cynthia H.] Tyson and continuing to make our alma mater great.
Shannon Greene Mitchell ’57
- Dr. Fox, I received this letter as an alumna and read the editorial. I can’t imagine our case could have been stated more eloquently. And it’s all public data — women’s colleges prepare women well and they are out there proving it. I am proud we are staying the course, that I am an alumna of such a strong institution, and that I have a chance to help move us forward by now working for you and Mary Baldwin.
Judy Grey ’69, MBC director of foundation and corporate relations
- A sad day for R-MWC. It was a long legacy of my family that my sister and I broke by choosing to attend MBC; we graduated in ’82 and ’87, respectively. Thank you for your strong support of MBC and for recognizing the true value of an education at an all-female college. It has made me a strong. This only strengthens my belief that there are not enough of us out there! Thank you for your role in producing more strong women that the world and the country so desperately need.
Susan Pendleton Dawson ’87
- I am very glad to hear that you support the continuance of MBC as a residential women’s college. There are essential, formative experiences for young women derived from such educational environments. In turn, those experiences are especially important in today’s world where women play vital roles in business, the arts, and other interests. Thank you for speaking out.
Carolyn J. Weekley ’67
- Thank you for your e-mail. Single sex education was one of the top reasons why I choose MBC for my collegiate education, and it continues to be a top priority for me. Please continue keeping MBC best interests at heart.
Tabby Tuttle ’03
- I am in complete agreement with your viewpoint. As an alumna of R-MWC, I appreciated very much the tone of your comments. Interestingly a new book recently published by female neuropsychiatrist Dr. Louann Brizendine, entitled The Female Brain, outlines the differing learning styles between men and women. A Forbes magazine article dated June 27, 2006, “Are Women Better Entrepreneurs?” indirectly underscores the viability of a woman’s college. As stated by author Margaret Heffernan, “every day, 420 women go out and start their own businesses — twice the rate at which men do so. And these businesses are growing revenue, profits and jobs faster than business as a whole. Women now own 46 percent of private businesses …”
Heffernan ends the article with the statement, “As the economy heats up, it’s sobering to think that the real competition for talent isn’t other firms — it’s the business and ideas incubating inside women’s minds.”
Thank you for your continued support of single gender education.
- Thank you for reassuring us that Mary Baldwin College remains committed to providing women the unique opportunity of single sex education. I was a little concerned when I read in our local paper (Fredericksburg, VA) that the alumnae were not aware that Randolph-Macon’s Women’s College was under such financial strain, that they felt there was no other option but to admit men. I now appreciate much more the efforts that were made a few years ago to take us to university status.
Thank you so much for watching over my alma mater and assuring that in 17 years, when my daughter is entering college, she will still have the opportunity for single-sex education among all the other choices that exist.
Sara Mackey Dunn ’98
- Thank you for your message. I truly believe in the mission of a college for women. I have treasured and benefited from my years at MBC. My husband graduated from Randolph-Macon College (Ashland) when it was a men’s college; and he, too, valued his experience in a single-sex college. I am sure that our MBC alumnae support, as I do, the continuing focus of MBC upon the education of women.
My education at MBC was once again brought home to me last weekend when my husband and I attended Family Day at the Medical College of Georgia. Our daughter enrolled there this fall to pursue a second degree. In his address, the President of MCG stressed the importance of life-long learning. If MBC had not made me a life-long learner, where would I be now? My MBC education nurtured all of my interests, and I remain enthusiastic about learning and reading more. Last year, I took two semesters of French. Life-long learning was not something we were talking about in 1963 when I graduated from MBC, but learning in an environment that was focused on women and the strengths of women gave all of us the tools we needed for a lifetime. I rejoice, as a Presbyterian, in having a wonderful woman pastor in my home church and for my having been able to serve in various leadership posts in my church, including as elder. Both our denomination and our school have nurtured us well.
Lucy Morris Gay ’63