Only male at Hood may get company

The Education Beat

Admissions: The president of the women's college in Frederick argues that going co-ed will boost enrollment and finances.

July 31, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

RONALD J. Volpe is the only man living on the campus of Hood College in Frederick, but he might have company as early as next year.

Volpe, who lives with his wife and daughter, happens to be president of the women's college, which has struggled recently with enrollment and finances. But things are looking up.

Last year's freshman class was a scant 110. This year, Hood has 189 freshmen - freshwomen? - signed up. Multiply those additional 79 students by Hood's 2002-2003 tuition of $19,360, and you get a rough idea of how Volpe's year of ardent recruiting has paid off.

And if Hood decides to become fully coeducational - it accepts a small number of men as commuters - things will get even better. Volpe has been sounding out alumnae around the country since he took over last summer. He has visited 53 cities in 17 states, holding what he calls "cottage meetings." He guesses he has met 2,500 of Hood's 15,000 alumnae, and admitting men as residential students is on most of their minds.

Although Volpe, 56, doesn't come right out and say that he favors a fully coeducational Hood College, he makes a solid argument for taking the plunge. Having men as fellow campus residents "is not only a matter of survival, but whether we want to go to a higher level," he says.

With some notable exceptions, the changing times have been hard on women's colleges - and on schools such as Hood in particular. Unlike the "Seven Sisters," most of which are associated with Ivy League colleges, Hood isn't allied with a nearby coeducational institution.

And unlike Catholic institutions such as the College of Notre Dame, Maryland's other women's school, Hood doesn't have a ready-made feeder system of girls' high schools. The College of Notre Dame has Notre Dame Prep. Hood is in something of the same pickle as other second-rung women's colleges, like Hollins University in Roanoke, Va. Forty years ago, Hood and Hollins were among 298 women's colleges; today, there are 67, according to the Coalition of Women's Colleges, and 37 of those are religiously affiliated.

Attitudes toward women's schools also have changed, says Volpe. An all-women's education "might have been more important for breaking through the glass ceiling 20 years ago, but it's not so important today," he says. "And today's young people hang together socially. It's common for a boy's best friend to be a girl. They don't want to give that up when they go to college."

In recent years, news that a women's college was merely considering admitting men has prompted a spike in applications. That happened this year at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, though the school won't be enrolling men until next fall.

Volpe is well aware that going co-ed is an emotional issue. Breaking a 110-year tradition will be painful to some. Also, Volpe remembers with some embarrassment that he demonstrated against the admission of women while a student at Gannon University, a Catholic men's college in Erie, Pa. "I'm hoping," he says, "that the decision at Hood will be driven not by emotion, but by fact."

Relatives of Hood alumnae eligible for tuition discount

"Wouldn't it be wonderful," a Hood alumna said during one of Volpe's meetings with graduates last year in Rochester, N.Y., "if my granddaughter could pay the same tuition I did?"

Volpe said he thought about the remark "all the way back to the hotel. So I asked the dean of admissions and the finance people what would happen if we did this. I was told we could do it, starting in 2003."

So, beginning next fall, children or grandchildren of Hood alumnae will pay the same tuition their mothers or grandmothers paid. The discount will apply only in the freshman year. Still, it could be substantial if, say, the student's mother entered in 1950, when tuition was $500, or her grandmother matriculated in 1925, paying $200.

School's former president in charge of Illinois College

Martha E. Church carved out a national reputation as president of Hood from 1975 to 1995. The educator and professional geographer retired in Frederick, though she traveled extensively, hiked in the Himalayas and served as a trustee of the National Geographic Society.

Now Church, 71, has joined the small band of interims - people who assume college presidencies on a temporary basis while trustees search for "permanent" leaders. Church's first assignment is Illinois College, a small school in the Abraham Lincoln country of west-central Illinois that boasts among its graduates the orator William Jennings Bryan.

"I'm the first female president since the school was founded in 1829," Church said yesterday. "I'm having a super time."

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