Exploring Different Models: A Consortia Approach

Following the initial report of the Board of Trustees Chatham College for Women (CCW) Study Group in the summer of 2013, the Board impaneled an Undergraduate Steering Committee, consisting of Chatham faculty and administrators and a Faculty Reading Group consisting of all tenured faculty and chairs in CCW.

Answering the charge by the Board of Trustees that we explore different measures to expand undergraduate education and to grow enrollment, these two groups each met six times and held combined meetings twice since October 2013.

We studied the three models of consortia in MA, MN and CA, to which Smith, Mount Holyoke, St, Catherine, and Scripps belong. We explored the idea of creating an internal consortium that would allow us to provide undergraduate education to a broader range of students across CCW, College of Continuing Education & Professional Studies (CCPS), and Falk School of Sustainability (FSS), while still honoring and preserving CCW.

Note: CCW does have some men in the classroom because of the PCHE (Pittsburgh Council of Higher Education) collaboration among other Pittsburgh schools. This also allows CCW students to take classes at other Pittsburgh institutions.

Such internal consortium would allow us to maximize faculty expertise and capacity among the three colleges. We imagined introducing co-educational undergraduate education in CCPS that would serve mostly transfer and adult learners. This would require re-articulation of the identity of CCW as a women’s college because CCPS’s co-educational population would be spread in CCW classes.

We repeatedly asked ourselves: How do we preserve the identity of CCW despite male presence? The current college identity is expressed in the curriculum and co-curricular activities. Maintaining CCW as a women’s college would require us to continue the co-curriculum for women only. We brainstormed: What if we introduced co-education at the upper division, thus continuing the all women environment during their first year? What if we preserved the STEM classes for women while opening up all other classes to women and men? Why would men come when they were barred from residential and co-curricular life?

We eventually recognized the following limitations of the internal consortium model:

  1. In the case of the successful consortia in MA, MN, and CA, each partner has its faculty, a distinct undergraduate curriculum, and its own campus. These conditions do not exist at Chatham. The only undergraduate program that currently has a faculty who offers a wide range of courses and degrees is in CCW. FSS and CCPS offer specialized undergraduate programs supported by faculty experts within these disciplines.
  2. Consortia exist to enhance and supplement each partner’s curriculum, thus offering an environment of inclusion. However, the internal consortium would create an environment of exclusion in order to preserve the women only co-curricular life. This would be in odds with the womanist ethos of inclusivity.
  3. Through the internal consortium, we aspired to enroll co-educational transfer students and adult learners. However this aspiration wouldn’t generate the number that Chatham University needs in order to thrive; we must double undergraduate enrollment in the next five years to be able to survive economic downturns and the stiff competition with the numerous universities/colleges in our region.
  4. If we were to enroll undergraduate students in two separate colleges (CCW and CCPS), where should we place new degree programs? This is a very important question as we are designing degrees in alignment with the job market. To put them in CCW would limit enrollment as well as delivery modality, and to put them in CCPS would draw CCW’s students away. Offering them in both colleges would not be cost-effective, and in addition would create different curricula for the same degree because CCW’s culminating product is the tutorial while CCPS is the capstone.

Although the two working groups were not able to provide a direction that promises significant growth and the preservation of the Women’s College, their work, nevertheless, has generated many good ideas on how to make CCW a more attractive destination for transfer students and to support their retention.