RALEIGH — As chairman of the Board of Trustees of Peace College, I would like to explain the process and reasoning behind the recent announcement that Peace will become coeducational. This decision was not entered into lightly. We understand that this is a monumental change.
The board appreciated and was sensitive to the history and legacy of Peace College as an esteemed institute of learning for women. At the same time, as fiduciaries, we recognized that if we continued on the current path, we had an operating model that could not be sustained economically without significant modification.
Our strategic planning committee, formed during late winter, studied how other women's colleges had positioned themselves for the future. Here is what they learned:
Women's junior colleges thrived during a time that many state institutions would not accept women until the junior year. When the UNC system began admitting women as freshmen in the 1960s and when formerly all-male schools such as Princeton and Davidson began opening their doors to women in the early 1970s, educational choices increased dramatically over a 15- to 20-year period.
Women's institutions suffered as a result. In 1950, there were 203 women's schools. By 2010, there were just 46. More than three out of every four women's colleges have closed, merged or become coed in the last 60 years.
Enrollment issues pressed on Peace by the early 1990s. This was a critical factor in our decision to move to a four-year baccalaureate program beginning in 1996. But even with this endeavor, we were not able to grow and sustain sufficiently higher full-time day enrollment.
These enrollment trends were discouraging. But they were not the only facts our board reviewed. Consider:
Tuition differences are driving more students to choose public schools over private ones. Only 17 percent of students now choose private schools, and only about 2 percent of women will even consider a women's college. The market for prospective Peace students is declining.
Despite our best efforts, we have been unable to sustain and grow full-time, day enrollment at Peace. We have had periods of growth, but after a few years, the numbers settle back down. Our Fall 2010 student body was virtually the same size as a decade ago. All private schools are tuition-driven, and enrollments need to increase over time just to cover the inflationary expenses, not to mention costs for new programs and endeavors.
Encouraged by enrollment growth during the first few years of the past decade, we added infrastructure and faculty in anticipation of serving a larger student body. After enrollment peaked in 2003, the burdens of those additional costs began to weigh on the school, particularly as the recession of 2008 affected our economy. We have made serious efforts to adjust our cost structure to the realities of our size.
As students declared their majors, we recently found that we were understaffed in some disciplines and overstaffed in others. A number of decisions occurred last year to realign our faculty and staff to support the changing interests of our student body and their studies.
This information made it increasingly apparent to us that we must broaden the market for potential students if Peace is to remain viable moving forward. Going coed opens our enrollment not only to young men, but also to the market of women who previously would not have considered Peace because of its status as a women's college.
For long-term survival, institutions must adapt to the needs of a changing society. Though I understand how this announcement has upset some, the simple truth is that it is a necessary step to take if Peace is to flourish.
To those who have said they would rather Peace close than see men allowed on campus, we ask: Is this right or in the best interests of meeting the needs of our current students, faculty and staff, alumnae, longtime supporters and this great Raleigh community?
We firmly believe that these changes have been mandated by the facts and circumstances, and that Peace will, as it has for over 150 years, continue to evolve and enhance the lives of its students, as well as remain a vital part of the Raleigh community.
Todd A. Robinson is chairman of the Board of Trustees at Raleigh's Peace College, which is changing its name to William Peace University.