Hood opts to go fully coed

Men to be allowed to live on campus

First time in 109-year history

Recruiting difficulties, financial woes cited

October 19, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

FREDERICK -- Hood College has decided to allow men to live on its campus, becoming fully coeducational for the first time in the school's 109-year history, officials announced yesterday.

Hood President Ronald J. Volpe and board of trustees Chairwoman S. Deborah Jones made the announcement to a subdued audience in the college chapel, where some students wept as they learned men will be moving into the college's residence halls as early as next fall.

Founded as the Woman's College of Frederick, Hood has been a brand name in women's higher education for more than a century, although the school has admitted a small number of men as commuter students since 1971. About 420 of the 820 female undergraduate students live on campus.

Hood joins a parade of formerly all-women's colleges that have opened their doors to men in recent years.

Forty years ago, there were 300 women's colleges in the United States; that number has dwindled to about 65. Hood's decision means there will be just one left in Maryland, the College of Notre Dame in Baltimore.

Financial problems beset Hood in recent years as full-time enrollment dwindled.

Faculty and administrators also grappled with a major problem: competing for students against coed schools in a market in which a small number of young women -- less than 2 percent by one survey -- seek a college environment without men.

Although energetic recruitment increased this fall's Hood freshman class to 179, freshman enrollment last fall was just over 100. Hood was forced to dip into endowment funds to cover expenses, and then a declining stock market delivered a new blow to the school's investments.

"The young women who are here are getting a heck of an education -- small classes, an involved faculty, excellent facilities," said Joseph Dahms, an economics professor. "The trouble is, there aren't enough of them."

Hood's faculty senate voted 59-0 in favor of coeducation Oct. 4. A faculty report submitted to Volpe said lagging enrollment "imperils the future existence of the institution."

"You don't know how long we've thought about it, studied it, slept on it, worried about it," said political science professor Hoda Zaki. "Institutions die incrementally."

Student reaction to the news ranged from resignation to anger. As they left the chapel yesterday morning, several students said they would consider transferring to a women's college.

"They're wiping away all the traditions and history," said Latonya King, a 19-year-old freshman from the District of Columbia.

Emily Johnson, 21, senior class president, said the choice was between the survival of the school and the admission of men.

"In 10 years, I'd rather see a thriving alma mater here than a Kmart," Johnson said.

Katelyn Lang, 19, president of the sophomore class, said there was little organized protest on campus "because we knew we really weren't going to have a voice. Dr. Volpe had this all planned out from the day he arrived."

Volpe, installed a year ago as Hood's 10th president, has traveled the country conferring with alumnae and officials at other colleges that have admitted men.

A letter from Volpe in late August informed alumnae that the change was possible, and the school's board of trustees approved it late Thursday.

"I'm torn by it," said Jeannette Phelps, 65, a 1959 Hood graduate who has given generously to the college. "I wish it didn't have to happen. I don't think coeducation is going to be the cure-all they think it's going to be."

Phelps said she hoped Hood would not place men and women in the same dorm. "I'll be most upset if one male head touches a pillow in Shriner Hall, where I lived and where I recently paid for the [fire] sprinkler system," she said.

Hood faculty and officials said the remaining all-female schools are paying for the success of the women's movement.

"The climate has changed," said Robert Funk, acting president before Volpe's arrival. "The percentage of young women interested in an all-women's education is very small, and young women no longer feel there are limits on their aspirations."

Funk said Hood is at a recruiting disadvantage because it is not close to a coeducational college where students can cross-register and socialize. And importing busloads of young men from the Naval Academy and other schools to enhance social life has become increasingly awkward, he added.

"Women's colleges opened so many doors that schools like Hood are going out of business," said Craig Laufer, Hood's Faculty Senate chairman. "That's a great irony."

When Hood becomes fully coeducational, the College of Notre Dame will be the only school in the state with an all-female student body in its core undergraduate program. (Notre Dame enrolls men in part-time, weekend and graduate courses.)

"I don't think Hood's move will have an effect on us at all," said Mary Pat Seurkamp, the Notre Dame president. "Our undergraduate population has been steady, and we don't expect it to change. And we're much different from Hood, next door to Loyola and surrounded by a number of coeducational institutions."

Most of the colleges opening doors to men in recent years have been Catholic. Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia experienced a 65 percent increase in applications for this fall's freshman class after it announced it would enroll men in 2003.

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