Enrollment booms after men move in

Decision to make dorms coed helps revive struggling Hood College


At Hood College in Frederick, men make up a quarter of the student body - a pretty small group, considering that they are credited with saving the place.

Three years ago, Hood was a virtually all-women's college with a declining enrollment and such bleak finances that it was tapping its endowment to pay the bills.

Hood had 1,700 students, including a handful of men who attended as commuters. The trustees decided to let male students live on campus for the first time in Hood's 112-year history, hoping they would boost enrollment and revitalize the college.

The decision, which was greeted emotionally, seems to be working. Since the first men moved into dorms in fall 2003, the enrollment has grown to more than 2,100 students, the biggest ever. The student body includes about 550 men, and applications from women are up as well.

Dorms are full for the first time in years. So are classrooms.

"It was a school that was right on the borderline, and now there's a whole new mood. There's a much more upbeat energy," said Finn M. W. Caspersen, chairman of the Hodson Trust, a major financial contributor to the college.

Besides ordering bigger beds for the men and hiring more sports coaches, officials say, they have had to make relatively few adjustments. "I'm surprised at how little difference I feel," said biology professor Craig S. Laufer.

Hood was founded in 1893 as the Woman's College of Frederick. In 1912, the school changed its name to Hood College in honor of a citizen who donated 28 acres.

Hood was part of a thriving community of women's colleges. By the 1960s, there were about 300 women's colleges nationwide, according to the Women's College Coalition in Washington.

As more students wanted a coeducational experience, women's colleges began disappearing, even though the number of women attending college kept rising. Nearly 60 percent of college students are women, the most ever. About 60 women's colleges remain.

As enrollment dwindled, Hood officials were aware that surveys showed 97 percent of college applicants preferred a coed school. Hood's location on the outskirts of a small city didn't help; many successful women's colleges are in large metropolitan areas or partner with a nearby coed campus. Hood has no academic partner, and the nearest four-year, coed college, Mount St. Mary's, is about 25 miles away in Emmitsburg.

Hood President Ronald Volpe recalls looking at the school's long lawn during lunchtime, when students should have been walking toward the dining hall, and seeing nothing but grass. Classrooms in the gleaming new science center had hardly any students, and dorm floors were empty.

"It was like a ghost town. If you didn't know better, you'd think we were on vacation," he said. "It really felt like we were on death's door."

Some students broke into tears during the announcement of the decision, said Amber Miller of Randallstown, now a senior. "They felt like men could take away from a nurturing environment," said Miller, adding that she wasn't disturbed by the decision.

When men arrived two years ago, Miller began noticing changes. Instead of going to class in sweats, she said, "people started looking a little more made up."

Attitudes have relaxed since. On a recent day, most students were dressed in the typical college attire - ponytails for women, uncombed "bed head" for the guys, and jeans for all.

School officials were concerned that having more men would change the campus culture. Males had been allowed as commuter students since 1971, but professors worried that a sudden influx could drastically change the school's dynamics.

"There were some studies that suggested males could dominate, so we wanted to be careful," Volpe said.

But he and others say men have blended in almost seamlessly. During a recent meeting of an introductory biology class of 21 women and 10 men, the women asked the overwhelming majority of questions. Laufer said later that he never felt he had to change his teaching style to accommodate a coed audience.

The college decided not to set up a quota system for males in student government or clubs. Virtually every member of Hood's student government is female.

Most say that men haven't made a huge difference in the classroom, but they have a notable presence on the field. Hood did not offer special aid packages to men - tuition and room and board is nearly $30,000 annually - but they did stress that any male student had a very good chance of playing athletics there.

Mike Anderson, a junior marketing major, had never played lacrosse competitively before coming to Hood. But last year, lacrosse's inaugural season, Anderson was a key midfielder.

"I just walked onto the team and played almost every single minute of every single game," he said.

Many women say that they would not have come to Hood had it remained single-sex because they wanted to go to a school with a diverse student body.

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