THE BLOG
05/23/2016 01:06 pm ET Updated May 23, 2017

How Sweet Briar Was Saved, What Lessons Are Learned ?

Previously, I mentioned in my post " We Have Boats But We Don't Have Oars " about the struggle that some educational institutions have been experiencing in staying sustainable to provide education to their students. I referenced Sweet Briar College, a liberal arts women's college in Virginia, that was proposed to close in 2015. I am very happy to report that the reports of the school's imminent closure were not realized. Sweet Briar is still open; they have actively recruited a growing number of new students. They are blessed with a tremendous committed alumni who were determined that this school would not close. According to a recent article from USA Today:

"Less than a year after almost closing, Sweet Briar College has received a record-breaking number of applications."

Its old management announced plans in March 2015 to shut down the school in August, citing "financial challenges" and declining student interest in small, single-sex liberal arts colleges. But an alumnae-headed movement fought back, wrestled control of the school and ultimately saved Sweet Briar, giving it a new lease on life this year.

Students and faculty say the number of applications - which increased from 751 at this time last year to 1099 this year -- is just another sign of a community that has banded together to pull itself back from the brink.

"There's a sense of trust that has been restored throughout our college," says Katie Craig, the student body president. "There's an idea that future sustainability is what we're all working for."

What has been amazing and inspirational to witness has been how the Sweet Briar alumni mobilized in order to protect the college from closing its doors.

Sweet Briar alumnae fought back, raising more than $12 million for a campaign to keep the school open. A legal battle followed, with Sweet Briar supporters arguing the school's board was violating the terms of the trust that started the school. In June, Virginia's Attorney General brokered a settlement that would allow the school to remain open with a new board and administrators.
The school reopened in August with a down-sized staff and student body. But students and faculty say they feel the school is starting to feel normal again, but that the tumult has inspired a newfound commitment to strengthen the institution.

A total of 82 students graduated from Sweet Briar this year. The future of this educational institution looks very sound.

So what are the lessons learned regarding the experience of Sweet Briar? First, educational institutions need to have strong alumni networks. Sweet Briar was blessed in having motivated and engaged alumni who were very adept at raising money to keep the school open. This institution was also open and flexible to revisiting its mission and was able to determine how they could restructure faculty and departments that would enable the delivery of quality education. Finally, the Sweet Briar case demonstrates the need and commitment to the future of women's colleges; and the unique role they play in developing the intellectual and personal growth for women.

As I mentioned earlier, there are instances where institutions like boats can float in the water, but if there is no one who is able to row the boat with oars, the direction the boat is going can become haphazard at best.

Sweet Briar was able to get oars and also to get people to use the oars to row the boat in a successful evolution.

For that, we can be thankful that this learning community will continue to flourish.

May we all continue to flourish in our learning.

May it be so.