Best Kept College Secrets

Colleges for Real People


Spring Hill College – Alabama, Southern Illinois University, Kendall College- Illinois, Saint Mary of the Woods – Indiana, Kentucky Wesleyan College, Olivet College – Michigan, Bemidji State University – Minnesota, Minnesota State University – Manketo, Saint Cloud State University – Minnesota, Daniel Webster College, New Hampshire, Hiram College – Ohio, Keystone College – Pennsylvania, Newberry College – South Carolina, Sterling College – Vermont.

These are among the 556 colleges named by the Education department as in need of “heightened cash monitoring”.  The Washington Post reported the story largely in response to the financial difficulty of several of the largest for-profit enterprises, such as the Corinthian Group and ITT.  Virginia Intermont College in Bristol, Virginia closed its doors a year ago in the wake of financial difficulty.

In gathering information for the third edition of America’s Best Kept College Secrets, I am hoping to be able to add to the number of good options often overlooked, determined to recommend colleges of quality that will offer students a stable and successful collegiate career..  Some of the additions have been easy to describe, but others have been more problematical.

I do like to include colleges that have made bold choices in carving out new territory or in taking on an expanded mission; it can often be exciting and energizing to join a college in transition.  On the other hand, I am aware that some initiatives don’t work out or take longer to work out than a student might like.  I’m holding off on final recognition for two colleges that I hope will turn out to be successful.

The first of these is Chatham University, formerly Chatham College for Women.  Chatham has been in business since 1869, offering a strong liberal arts program on a lovely campus in the Shady Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh.  Single sex colleges have had a tough time in the last decade; a number have reconstituted themselves as coeducational institutions.  Chatham took a slightly different route, developing a number of interesting graduate programs (landscape architecture, creative writing) open to men and women.  Chatham has been able to attract funding and has not encountered financial melt-down, but its undergraduate numbers have fallen.  In response, the university decided to add men to the undergraduate population; the first class will enter in the fall of 2016.  There has been strong reaction from the college’s graduates who had particular fondness for the college’s determination to educate women for leadership, but the college’s decision appears to have been helpful in that the numbers of applicants have increased since the inclusion of men.

The newly defined Chatham may turn out to be a very good coed college, but the shakedown period of adjustment could be problematic.  I this case, much as I like Chatham, I think we have to wait and see.

The second of the three institutions is Sweet Briar College in Virginia.  Like Chatham, Sweet Briar has been a college for women since its founding.  Its graduates remain firm in their appreciation of their education, and the college’s campus remains one of the most attractive in the South.  Stables, riding arenas, competitive riding programs have brought Sweet Briar considerable acclaim, but they are costly, and as the number of entering students continued to drop, a true financial crisis emerged at Sweet Briar.  The college had been well supported by its alumnae, but those funds were earmarked for specific purposes and could not be turned toward the daily operation of the program.  With quiet resignation, the administration announced the closing of Sweet Briar only to find that its graduates would go to great lengths to keep the college afloat.

Currently, Sweet Briar is back in business.  A new team of administrators has taken charge of the financial side of the college and loyal faculty and students have returned to business as usual in that spectacular setting.  I have every hope that Sweet Briar will flourish, but again, let’s wait and see.



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