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Host: Scott LaMar

Radio Smart Talk: Wilson College's decision to go coed; PA Home Show

Written by Scott LaMar, Smart Talk Host/Executive Producer | Mar 5, 2013 9:05 AM

Radio Smart Talk for Tuesday, March 5:

Wilson College sign 300 x 170.jpg

Wilson College in Chambersburg was established in 1869 to provide a liberal arts education to women.  With the exception of men over the age of 22 who commuted to classes, its been that way since.

That was until last January when Wilson's Board of Trustees voted to admit male students as commuters this fall and as fulltime students who could live on campus in 2014.

The move was made to increase Wilson's enrollment, which hovers around 700 students.  The Board also decided to reduce tuition rates to boost the number of students attending the school.  It may sound counterintuitive, but more students would translate into more revenue.  Wilson has $31 million in debt and needs another $10 million in maintenance.

The decision to go coed was not received well by some alumnae who thought it was made too quickly and without enough input from Wilson graduates.

Wilson president Dr. Barbara Mistick will appear on Tuesday's program to disuss the move.


Dr. Barbara Mistick, president of Wilson College, discusses the school's decision to become coeducational.


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  • Samantha img 2013-03-04 23:45

    Will there be an opposing view during the Wilson College segment on the co-education decision?

    Thanks from the Class of 1994

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-03-05 09:12

    E-mail from Kendal:

    "I am a 1980 graduate of Wilson College, a Director on the Alumnae Association Board and a representative of the group opposed to the January 13th decision to change Wilson College's mission as a women's college [...]

    When Dr. Mistick interviewed in the fall of 2011. I had the opportunity to meet her. I asked her the same question that I had asked each of the other candidates; "Are you committed to Wilson's mission as a women's college?" Dr. Mistick answered yes.

    Our organized opposition began in the end of September when we realized that coeducation was not one of many possible solutions to help Wilson, instead it was being promoted as the best solution.

    This process has been rushed. A survey of alumnae has never been done and even today not all alumnae are aware of the situation at Wilson. Alumnae created a recommendation (found on our Pines & Maples website listed below) suggesting that the college put forth a pull-out-all-the-stops initiative that would focus the full power and intellect of all college constituencies into improving the college for women. This recommendation was never taken into consideration. Alumnae are dismayed by the recent display of marketing know-how by the college, when for years the college for women was not promoted."

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-03-05 09:14

    E-mail from Kendal:

    "In response to the college administration’s oft-repeated dire warnings of financial ruin, I would like to make clear that the $31million dollars of debt is a bond. The bond was secured so that funds donated during the annual fundraising campaign (for the beautiful state-of-the-art Science Center) could be invested in the college’s endowment. The funds to repay that bond are restricted monies in that endowment (total endowment now valued at around $71million) to pay the $31million dollar bond when the principal payments will begin in 2018. It is like a mortgage taken out on the construction of the Science Center, and is common practice on college campuses today. But it is essential to remember - the monies to repay that debt are in the endowment, now.
    There are several ways the college trustees can decide how to fund the $10 million in maintenance. There is also an alternative plan to renovate the library and make use of the well-built 1960’s era addition, rather than remove that addition and start over again. The alternative plan, proposed by a current trustee who is also an architect, comes in around $6million (compared to $12million). We think that is worth a serious consideration.

    Thank you for giving this discussion a public platform. The alumnae of Wilson College are proud of the heritage of this 144 year old college for women. We believe in the value of that mission, still. We are considering legal action to counter the decision made in January."

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-03-05 09:15

    E-mail from Marie:

    "What lessons can be learned from other women's colleges that have gone co-ed?"

  • Beth img 2013-03-05 09:25

    Dr. Mistick,
    How do you expect Wilson to compete with Dickinson, Gettysburg, Hood, Goucher, and Shippensburg?

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-03-05 09:30

    E-mail from Richard:

    "Did you come to Wilson College committed to a women's college? Have you changed your mind? Are you willing to end 144 years of a college for women because it is challenging to raise money?"

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-03-05 09:42

    E-mail from Deborah:

    "The data used to persuade the Wilson Board of Trustees to vote for the co-ed option were biased and, in many cases, invalid. The Stevens Strategy survey to which you refer was poorly designed, a problem identified by many people and ignored. So Pres. Mistick's continual references to the Stevens' data should be discounted.

    Further, the data presented from other women's colleges that have gone co-ed were selected to present only one side of an argument -- i.e., that Wilson must go co-ed to survive. Why not ask her Pres. Mistick why Wilson did not emulate Mills, Sweet Briar, and Chatham -- all women's colleges that considered going co-ed yet remained successful as women's colleges?

    The truth is that, during the past 40 years, the percentage of high school girls who would consider attending a women's college has remained stable (although low) at approximately 3%, given the meager available data. During that 40 years, the number of women's colleges has plummeted, from more that 200 to less than 50. Those mathematical facts alone should make Wilson more competitive, not less competitive.

    In fact, the most successful women's colleges -- Smith and Mount Holoyoke are good examples -- are very open about being women's colleges, and they have more applicants than they can accept. Perhaps if Wilson embraced her identity as a women's college, she would have been equally successful as a women's college. Why not recommit to Wilson's core mission as a women's college and market it as such?"

  • Jason Smith img 2013-03-05 10:08

    Wow. I called in to comment and all I got from the President was a lot of "at the end of the day" and double-speak. This is very, very sad. It is unfortunately that Dr. Mistick seems to feel her responsibility is to the Board of Trustees rather than to the Institution itself.

    (And when I say responsibility to the "Institution" I mean to making Wilson a successful WOMEN'S COLLEGE. That is what Wilson is...that is the core of its being.To suggest otherwise is poppy-cock.)

    If Wilson has been unable to compete with the 40 other women's colleges in the nation, then good luck to it competing as a co-ed school. Sadly, Wilson will soon resemble Penn State York or HACC and, while still "alive" will lack the spirit that made it relevant.

    Thanks for not listening, Dr. Mistick. If you did hear the alums and take your calling seriously, you would have resigned when this change was announced. You are not a credible spokesperson at this point, and you clearly do not listen to anybody except the ones who sign your paycheck.

  • Radio Smart Talk img 2013-03-05 10:13

    E-mail from Carol:

    "I am a graduate of a former women's college and I believe Wilson is doing the right thing. The reason women in power today are graduates of women's colleges is that that was the education available to them in the 40's, 50's, and 60's. Now, women can attend all the top colleges, and they do. There is no reason for women to be educated apart from men. Women can hold their own with men in the classroom.
    And - they will compete with men after graduation and they should be prepared for that. I was delighted that my son and daughter chose co-ed colleges that were both formerly male."