Photographer: Longan Drink/Flickr

Private Colleges Near Sweet Briar Offer to Scoop Up Its Stranded Students

Sweet Briar College students will be able to transfer to Hollins through a "teach-out" agreement in the fall

Students at Sweet Briar College, which said this week that it will close, will be guaranteed the ability to transfer to a handful of schools with which Sweet Briar has reached "teach-out" agreements.

Sweet Briar, a private liberal arts school for women in Sweet Briar, Va., announced Tuesday it will shut down after this academic year. The move shocked students and observers in part because, with a $94 million endowment, the school was far from financially destroyed. 

Hollins University in Roanoke, Va., long-seen as a rival to Sweet Briar, is one of the schools now poised to rescue its undergraduates. Lynchburg College and Randolph College, both in nearby Lynchburg, Va., and Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va., have also agreed to accept Sweet Briar's students through an expedited application process, according to Sweet Briar.

In addition to the local schools opening their doors to the students, Kettering University in Flint, Mich. will also accept Sweet Briar students for the fall, provided they are pursuing degrees in business, science, technology, engineering, or math. 

Several of the schools posted statements on their websites inviting Sweet Briar students to visit their campuses and meet with admissions officers during their spring break. Others expressed their condolences to the Sweet Briar community, which was rattled by the sudden announcement on Tuesday.

"As Hollins continues to keep the campus community at Sweet Briar College in its collective thoughts, the university has been deeply moved by the compassion expressed by Hollins students and alumnae," Hollins University said in a statement. The school added that it "looks forward to doing all it can to support Sweet Briar in the days and weeks ahead."

The 114-year old Sweet Briar is just the latest small private college to shut down amid a difficult financial climate for schools. In recent years, dozens of schools have been hit by enrollment declines steeper than 10 percent, Bloomberg's Michael McDonald reported in 2014. The drop in enrollment, combined with flagging tuition dollars, has hit four-year private colleges particularly hard, forcing a growing number to sell real estate and slash department budgets, if not shut down altogether.

Before 2008, about five private four-year colleges either shut down or were acquired every year. That number doubled from 2008 to 2011, Vanderbilt University researchers found in an analysis of federal data. The institutions that have survived are in increasingly precarious financial positions. From 2008 to 2013, Moody's downgraded its bond ratings for about 28 institutions a year—more than double the number of schools it downgraded in the previous five years.

Update, March 5: Adds names of other colleges, in addition to Hollins, that have teachout agreements with Sweet Briar.

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