Announcement

Twenty years ago, Chatham College was a struggling, small, liberal arts undergraduate women’s college facing a dire financial and enrollment situation. As we’ve done for 145 years, we adapted, innovated and emerged as a stronger institution through the addition of graduate programs for men and women, an expansion into online education, and by developing areas of excellence in the fields of health sciences and sustainability.

Ultimately, this led to our successful transformation from the ~ 500 undergraduate student college we were then to the diverse 2,000+ student strong university spread over three locations and 425 acres we are today.

These changes allowed us to preserve and support the undergraduate women’s college in an incredibly challenging market where only 2% of high school girls say they would consider a women’s college, and a similarly small percentage graduate from them. Our efforts helped us continue to provide a high quality Chatham undergraduate education even as the number of women’s colleges has declined from 300 institutions in 1960 to currently less than 50.

Today—even with our best efforts and significant investments in recruiting, marketing and financial support—we stand as a community at another crossroads concerning the future of the undergraduate women’s college. We face challenges stemming from the impact of 2008’s recession and the realignment it has brought to undergraduate higher education that include the following:

  • While quality measures and US News & World Report rankings continue to improve, enrollment in the Chatham College for Women at Chatham University currently represents less than 1/3 of the total university enrollment, has declined each year from its peak in 2008 and is projected to continue to decline in the coming years.
  • Pennsylvania—our biggest source of undergraduate students—is tied as the state with the highest number of women’s or “women centric” colleges in the country, has seen the number of college bound students peak in 2009 and is projected to have a 9% decline in college bound students over the next three years (this is important as 80% of first-year college students attend a school within 200 miles of their home).
  • Standard & Poor’s 2014 rating for the U.S. not-for-profit higher education sector is “negative” and it states: “We expect the next few years to be particularly difficult for law schools, single-sex institutions and small religious institutions.”

To better understand and address these very serious market challenges, committees consisting of Chatham’s board, alumnae, faculty and administration began researching in 2013 the current state of undergraduate education at Chatham while looking at ways to maintain our high quality undergraduate offerings and to grow undergraduate enrollment across the university.

Given the findings of these committees, the Board of Trustees voted at the February board meeting in support of a resolution to: Further study and consider proposals to make all undergraduate education at Chatham University coeducational on or before its June 2014 meeting. Both the Board and the administration welcome input from the Chatham University community on this important issue.

To facilitate community input, we will conduct a series of online and in-person meetings in March and April, and have launched this blog where you will be able to review the issues, contribute to the discussion and comment on ideas being considered to address these challenges while honoring our mission of fostering women’s leadership. Questions and comments may also be sent to ChathamFeedback@Chatham.edu.

When we last faced this issue, we were able to diversify and grow our university offerings around the women’s college in order to save it. Confronted with a very different environment today, we must now address the critical need to grow undergraduate education into balance with the university’s graduate enrollment—something that looks to be increasingly difficult to achieve with an exclusive focus on women at the undergraduate level.

Chatham was founded in 1869 to address one of the major issues of the time—ensuring women had access to the same educational opportunities as men. 145 years later, women are in the majority at most universities and colleges, and the needs of our students and society continue to change. While great progress toward access and opportunity in education for women has been made, new issues have emerged that are less about access to education than the need for greater women’s leadership development and a deeper understanding of the role of diversity and gender in the workplace. Chatham’s history of innovation and reinvention make us uniquely positioned to once again address issues such as these in bold, new ways.

We look forward to engaging with you in this conversation about the next chapter in the future of Chatham University.

  1. Joseph Dowd says:

    I think this decision is moving the college and university in the wrong direction. There is a strong need in our society to provide an environment where people can learn to the best of their ability. If Chatham is one of the few remaining colleges providing an all-women learning environment it should market its uniqueness not abandon it. Keep your commitment to providing an education for women. Don’t make the enrollment problem worse by becoming just another undifferentiated small college with declining enrollment.

  2. Adrienne Lunt says:

    I went to Chatham as an 18 year old with misgivings about the issue of its status as a women’s college. It did not take me long to figure out that the dynamic between the students was unlike any other educational experience I had had thus far. I felt welcomed wherever I chose to sit in the cafeteria or in the classroom. It was a feeling of, we are all in this together. That unique comradry, I believe would disappear if Chatham were to go Co-Ed. It is important to stay true to ones purpose. The purpose of bringing to the world women ready to face life’s challenges should not be undercut by sacrificing the one major thing that gives Chatham a spark of uniqueness.

  3. Lucy Lubinski says:

    I am a proud graduate of the Class of 2007. I have ideas for ways in which recruitment efforts can be broadened. Beyond recruiters entering the local high schools, how about alumnae (if not currently) and current students? Perhaps focus groups can be formed among high school girls with recruiters/alum/students discussing the all-women’s educational experience and addressing possible misconceptions or concerns while providing what Chatham has to offer. Perhaps recruiters or volunteers can go out into the schools and bring them to campus to explore–sit in on a class, meet current students and faculty, offering the invitation on a regular basis. Also, what about applying these same ideas across the country or in local organizations that support girls by tapping into the alumnae network? A volunteer initiative can be drawn aiming to get the message out there about Chatham College for Women.

  4. Lindsey Brice says:

    My daughter is currently a first year at Chatham and she is extremely happy with her choice to attend a women’s college. Prior to submitting her application she read several student reviews, many of which stated that Chatham is boring and not a “party” school. It is for this reason she chose Chatham. She didn’t want to attend a college where socializing and partying is the main goal of the student body. She wanted an experience devoted to her as a woman and a scholar. She was accepted to several other universities, and offered more scholarship money at a few of those, yet she chose Chatham because of its environment and the commitment of preparing her to be a World Ready Woman. I can understand both sides of the dilemma Chatham is facing and I hope if the change is made to co-ed the commitment to these young women will remain the same. Please, while considering what Chatham may gain from this change, also consider what it may lose.

  5. kathleen mcclelland says:

    Most women do not remember the problems that Chatham went through in the 80′s, I do because not only was I a student, but also an employee. The College, at that time was almost closed or sold to CMU. These were difficult times and staff and faculty were cut to the basics. The College had to use endowment money to keep open. I do not want to see this happening again. I am willing to forgo the just women undergraduate program and go coed.
    This is a hard to do and I understand this, but we must do what is best for the now University.
    I received a great education through this University and used it for my advancement. I love this school am willing to let go of the “only women” if the advances the University.

    Kathy McClelland Class of “91″

  6. Carol Fris says:

    For me, growing up in a culture where women were considered “less than,” a college which elevated, honored and empowered women — and women only — without the influence of male students in the classroom, Chatham was perfect. I first visited the campus as a high school junior, as a participant in a Y-Teens Club Conference. I was so impressed that I desperately wanted to enroll. However, my desire was met at home with laughter – “Girls only go to college to find a husband. You can find a man without spending all that money.”

    WHOA! Can we remotely imagine saying that to a young woman today? It is a new day, a new time. Long story short–It took over twenty years, but I did make it back to Chatham, graduating in 1991 at the age of 47. It is the proudest accomplishment of my life, not only for what I did, but from where I did it.

    I’ve been representing Chatham at College Fairs for the past twenty years and have found it difficult to generate interest when the female students learn that Chatham undergrad admits women only. At the same time, curious male students come by the table and I’ve often thought how nice it would be for these young men to be part of our beautiful campus environment with access to our wonderful professors.

    I commend and respect President Barazzone for her untiring efforts and success in bringing prestige and recognition to what is now Chatham University. I have confidence in Dr. Barazzone and the professors and staff, as well as in our Trustees that they have researched and studied all options in trying to maintain Chatham as admitting only women to undergraduate programs, only to find, in their conclusion, that to remain viable, the decision to become co-ed educational must be considered.

    That Chatham would close her doors is unthinkable. I am faced with the choice of having my Chatham remain a small university, struggling with enrollment and finances or in supporting the decision to allow Chatham to become a growing, financially secure university which welcomes both women and men undergrads. If the Trustees vote to become a co-educational institution, I fully support their decision.

  7. Victoria Carl Zido says:

    The question of whether to go coed has been dogging all women’s colleges for many years now and the answer is never simple. As a member of the class of 1980 I know well the challenges (academic and economic) facing small liberal arts schools. My experience at Chatham was all that I wanted it to be and I have told my three daughters during their respective college searches that all I hope for them is that they have as wonderful a time as I did. In light of the current debate I have examined my feelings about my Chatham experience and realize it was not the single-sex educational experience but the intimacy of that experience…small class size, relationships with faculty who knew me well, knowing by face if not by name, most of the people I encountered on campus (not just students, but faculty and staff), small dorms, etc. By admitting men Chatham is not abandoning its role as a small liberal arts college but adding another voice to classroom discussion and debate which can only enhance the Chatham education. I fully support the transition to a coeducational college.

  8. kathleen mcclelland says:

    Carol, I also was a “class of 91″ graduate, I commend the Board of Directors for looking at including men as undergrads. There are not a lot of women looking for a “women’s only” college or university. There are male students in classes now, so what would be the difference if the are admitted as undergrad classmen. Chatham has been so forward looking, I don’t want to see it go backwards.
    I thought that I was the only graduate that thinks that Chatham should go forward with this change.

    thanks for your input, it makes me feel better about the whole thing

    Kathy McClelland, Class of “91″

  9. Deborah Morrison says:

    Mr. Campbell,

    Will this information be sent in a letter to all alumnae for whom the college has an address on file? I know that some of our older alumnae do not use email and do not live in the Pittsburgh area where they would see news releases. All Chatham alumnae should have the opportunity to express their thoughts.

    Deborah Morrison, Class of 1977

  10. bcampbell says:

    Yes. Print versions were also distributed last week. Thank you.

  11. Halyse Domencic says:

    Hello, Chatham,

    It is because of you that I am where I am today. You helped me forge a pathway to a lucrative and fulfilling career that I wouldn’t give up for anything in this world. My personal passion and dedication for education led me to become an educator myself, and I could not have done it without you.

    I chose Chatham in December 2009 as the youngest sister of an undergraduate alumnus. In my undergraduate pursuits, I attended Pitt, just a few doors down from you. I loved the education I got at Pitt, but I never felt that I was able to thrive there as much as I wanted to. I often felt like a number lost in a sea of caffeine-fueled, sleep-deprived coeds, feverishly scribbling notes during another drawn-out lecture.

    My sister and several of my professors recommended Chatham University to me for graduate school. I had considered it for my undergrad, but it did not offer the degree I wanted to pursue. Given that I was going into education at the time, the decision was a no-brainer for me: Chatham University was where I would earn my MAT in Elementary Education in December 2011.

    It’s rare for someone to say that they had an experience containing no negatives. My time at Chatham University was just that: no negatives, all positive. The small class sizes, warm, hospitable, staff, and driven students encompassed the undergraduate experience that I had originally wanted for myself. Those two years were a tremendous period of growth for me. In many ways, I found in myself the person I wanted to be: professional, devoted, and a lifelong learner. I came out of Pitt lost, confused, and unsure of myself. I came out of Chatham confident and ready to take on the world. It is an experience I wish for my niece.

    In a world where women still fight for equality in and out of the professional world, battle the seemingly never-ending hurdles of sexism and misogyny, and wade through a sea of statistics to take hold of their identities, Chatham University is an asset. And I strongly feel that if Chatham College for Women were to become coed, it would not only lose its poignant ability to aid young women in finding their identities in this male-dominated culture, but it would lose its own identity – one that has only gained more power in almost 150 years.

    When someone asks me where I learned to teach, I am so proud to say Chatham University. When I describe the professors, courses, student collaboration, and field experience Chatham University provided me, they are often envious that they did not have similar experiences in their higher education. Even if Chatham College for Women becomes coed, I will continue to say its name just as proudly and stare at my degree hung triumphantly on my wall every night before I go to sleep. However, I will be deeply saddened for what could have been for other women who were just like me, but was cut short by a monumental decision.

    I am Chatham, and I will forever be Chatham regardless of what you decide.

  12. Mary Kostalos says:

    I appreciate the letter from the alumnae trustees and their attempt to provide information, but would like to ask some questions and make some comments.
    1. You indicate a need for changes other than going coed. We …” need to find a way to repackage ourselves to be current, wanted and of the highest quality so that it will be desirable.” I have yet to hear specifics on this although a list of possible programs is mentioned. If these are the problems, is coed the answer? In what ways are we not current or of the highest quality. Should we not solve these problems and see if this solves the enrollment problem. It seems to me that there is a lack of leadership if we are not current and of high quality. This statement is also at odds with statements that we “have explored all the options”. Why did we wait until we were near crisis to act? While some of the things on the list such as a Women’s Leadership Institute and the other centers are great, most undergraduate students do not choose a college based on these things and they will do nothing to keep the all women classroom dynamic which is the major advantage of women’s education.
    2. Your letter states that CCW is experiencing a downturn in enrollment, but acknowledge that the problem is true of most liberal arts college and most of the colleges in the Pennsylvania state system. If coed college are also experiencing a downturn in enrollment and we are competing for students, will going coed help.
    3. We hear the much quoted figure that only 2% of high school female graduates will consider a women’s college. However, if there and about 30 women’s colleges and about 2700 -year undergraduate colleges, then only about 1% of colleges are women’s college. We also know that many students come to Chatham despite its being a women’s college. Also older students (25 years and older) are far less prejudiced against women’s education.
    4. I have to say that I am disappointed in the trustees and, the alumnae trustees in particular. All we have heard for the past 20+ years is how Dr. Barazzone has saved the college and that her salary is justified because she has increased enrollments and stabilized the college, etc, etc. Now, in February, you are saying that the CCW is in trouble. Basically, you are saying that we are nearly back where we started from and must consider drastic actions like coed to save the college.
    5. I understand that Eden Hall represents a possible avenue to increased students and revenue; however, in general, it will not help the CCW as stated in the letter. I’m sure that the publicity about Eden Hall has made the college more visible, but if had a substantial impact on undergraduate enrollments, we should be seeing an increase not a decrease in the CCW. Furthermore, I do believe that Eden Hall has become the top priority of the administration and trustees. The time and energy spent raising the very large amount of money meant that less time and energy were available to raise money for the CCW. Also, I find some of your statements contradictory. At the faculty meeting, we were told that the class sizes at the CCW are too small and that course offerings are limited in many majors. We do not have enough undergraduate resident students to fill the dorms. There is a lack of critical mass. I do not see how building a satellite campus (including lab and classroom space and residence halls) at a remote location (Eden Hall) helps any of the above problems. A student residing at Eden Hall is not on the Shadyside campus. Similarly, a student taking a class at Eden Hall is not filling a seat at the Shadyside campus. Typically the credits for a major are less than a third of the total credits taken for a degree. Where are the Eden Hall students going to take their non-major course. Coming to the main campus reduces use of Eden Hall; taking them at Eden Hall leaves the Shadyside campus underutilized. If the students majoring in the sustainability majors were integrated into the Shadyside campus to a greater extent, it would certainly help the under-utilization of the Shadyside campus and reduce the need for residence halls, classrooms labs, etc. at Eden Hall. Also, I understand that plans are being scaled back at Eden Hall and that less residence hall space will be constructed initially, due to lack of demand. Finally, if the current student body at the Shadyside campus is below critical mass with a large vibrant city to provide activities and events, how can you claim that the projected number of resident students at Eden Hall(250, according to the student paper), with no amenities within walking distance of the campus will achieve critical mass?
    6. There are successful women’s colleges. Why is Chatham not one of them?
    7. What specific changes will be made in addition to going coed to solve the enrollment problem?
    8. Why can those changes not be tried first?

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  14. Jennifer Haney says:

    Dr. K knows probably more than anyone what Chatham ‘needs’. She is both a graduate and a very distinguished professor with much seniority. I will always trust her judgement and the foresight and intelligence that goes in it.
    Chatham helped mold me into the strong committed women I am today and in turn has greatly influenced my children as well. It was the comradery that Chatham offers that larger co-ed schools do not, the small size classes and everyone’s dedication to uplifting strong women as well as the unique history of Chatham that are its strengths. A change of leadership that reflects these values is necessary.

  15. Amy Ingraham says:

    VERY much hoping Chatham stays true to its tradition of quality education for women, by staying single sex. Chatham lost a bunch of money and thinks having the boys around will save the budget. It just destroys the main reason to attend Chatham – all that talk you gave about world ready Women would be tossed away. I never made a ton of coin every year but I have consistently given Chatham a chunk of what I have. Not going to continue doing that if you vote to go co-ed. Trustees of Chatham…..PLEASE.

  16. Bethany Ford class of 1991 says:

    I’ve waited to add my voice to the chorus hoping that I would find something more to add to the many well thought out and researched letters and blog posts that I’ve read in the past two months. I haven’t really. My story is the same as so many others: Chatham is where I found my voice and got my feet under me – it made me a world ready woman.

    The words I have used in describing the college to to others for the past 25 years sum up why: small, liberal arts, women’s college. Each of those three features provided a rich environment for learning, both in the classroom and out. I fear that the college as it exists today, even before the coed issue is resolved, has already abandoned the pursuit of the liberal arts; the discussion about adding more pre-professional tracks may have scared me more than the idea of the undergraduate college becoming coed. Chatham University is already not the same place that nurtured my education.

    I was one of the 2%; I knew that I wanted to attend a women’s college. The proven successes of the women who came before me at Chatham and other women’s colleges were a convincing argument for an arena where I could thrive. I wish in the 25 years since I made that choice the playing field had truly been made gender neutral, but I don’t believe that it has, and the recent Atlantic article on women’s confidence underscored that for me. I believe that a young woman today would have as much to gain from attending a women’s college as I did. I hope it’s still a choice for my daughter when she’s ready to attend college.

    The conversation these past two months has been steered by an administration that has already decided on the next course for the College. I lived through this debate as an undergrad in 1990 and I felt like our voices mattered. I have not been given the same impression this time around. I sincerely hope I am wrong and the Board will vote to allow for a longer period of examination. The many ideas that have been offered up by the alumnae in support of the College are worth consideration.

    I will always be proud of my alma mater and grateful for the education and experiences I received there. I urge the Board to once again table the move to co-education. I want to be proud of a Chatham College for Women that continues to exist to educate future generations of women.

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