Impact to Enrollment: Former Women’s Colleges

Based on an analysis of self-reported institutional data available via the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) from the National Center for Education Statistics, nine schools that went coeducational between the years of 2003 and 2007 were analyzed for their enrollment trends before their change to coeducation and after. The schools include Chestnut Hill College, Harcum College, Hood College, Lesley College, Blue Mountain College, Wells College, Immaculata University, Regis College, and Randolph-Macon Women’s College. Based on the reported data, all but one saw increases in enrollment within five years of the coeducational change.

Key data points include:

  • For the five years prior to the coeducational change, the schools experienced an average enrollment decline of -6%. Five years after the change, they experienced an average enrollment increase of +31%.
  • Enrollment of women declined an average of -5% in the five years prior to the coeducational switch. Five years after the change, enrollment of women increased by an average of +13%.
  • Five years after the change, women represented 75% of the average enrollment.


Similar studies and data on women’s colleges that went coeducational are also available in the 2006 book, Challenged By Coeducation: Women’s Colleges Since the 1960s, edited by Leslie Miller-Bernal and Susan L. Poulson.  For example, Wheaton College in Massachusetts went coeducational in 1998 after facing a -21.2 % decline in enrollment from a high in 1975 (1,319 students) through a low in 1987 (1,039 students).

Based on 4-year enrollment trends from 1987 (the year prior to becoming coeducational) and 2002 (the last year reported in the book), their overall enrollment increased approximately +47% from 1,039 to 1,532.

Sources: IPEDSChallenged By Coeducation: Women’s Colleges Since the 1960s Edited by Leslie Miller-Bernal and Susan L. Poulson 

  1. Jennifer says:

    If a vegetarian restaurant began selling meat to appeal to a wider audience, profits would increase, but it would no longer be a vegetarian resteraunt.

  2. Alumna says:

    Wheaton College, while a wonderful statistical example of enrollment increases following a transition to coeducation in 1988, should not be the type of school that Chatham College for Women is compared to during the discussions of going coed.

    Wheaton College has been ranked as the least LGBT-friendly school in the nation for multiple years (see: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/03/wheaton-college-again-ran_n_917342.html). Chatham College for Women, and Chatham University, has always been one of the most accepting environments of diversity. Whether Chatham’s administration has used this to their advantage or supported it is another detail we may never know; however, students and alumnae have expressed their concerns related to the openness of the community to all individuals, particularly following a transition to coed.

    Do you really want to compare Chatham College for Women to a Christian school with little tolerance for the LGBT community?

    I would rather see Chatham College for Women die outright than see our community modeled after that at Wheaton College.

  3. Rebecca says:

    My sister is a 1996 graduate of Wells, before they went coed. You can site whatever enrollment statistics you want–but I have first hand knowledge of the reaction from Wells Alumnae. Many, many of them consider the college they loved (dare I say cherished), to be dead. They no longer attend reunions. They no longer give to the school. My sister took the sticker off her car and doesn’t even like to talk about Wells very much. I never wanted to feel towards Chatham the way she does towards Wells. Sadly with each blog post as you try to convince us, the graduates of Chatham College for WOMEN, that coed will be “better,”
    I feel the same bitter resentment she discussed growing inside me. So say what you want about enrollment at Wells–they have lost their Alumnae core–for what, a SLIGHT rise in enrollment? Was it worth it?

  4. Kelly says:

    THANK YOU!!

    It is absolutely an argument about what kind of product you want to offer, and clearly this administration has decided they want to water down our current product with solely for quantity and not necessarily quality.

    #savechatham

  5. Anne Landis says:

    You are referring to Wheaton College in Illinois–a Christian college.
    It’s Wheaton College in Norton, Mass that became coeducational in 1988.

  6. Michele 02 says:

    I am honestly tired of hearing support for why the college must do this and how successful other colleges have been when they have transitioned to co-ed. I want proof that the change to co-ed really is the last ditch effort by administration to save the undergraduate college. And I completely understand that this will never be able to be produced, because i don’t feel that the administration has exhausted all the options or attempted to reinvent the college in order to attract the masses again.

    I firmly believe that Chatham has something that people want. I feel like administration doesn’t feel like investing the effort or doing the work into keeping what makes us unique and different from every other college on fifth avenue–the world even. I understand that higher ed is changing and institutions must change and adapt themselves to continue to make it. Changing to a co-ed Chatham just doesn’t seem to be the right answer to this change. Put Chatham on a three year plan, invest the time and effort 100%, engage the free labor that has been offered, and attempt to turn the slump around. Take us back to the basics that made us all fall in love, stay, and support Chatham– keep us the college with the university options. If the effort fails, then and only then may people accept and support this effort.

  7. Kathleen A Ferraro Class of 1972 says:

    Wheaton alumnae/i apparently don’t fee they have much to celebrate: http://wheatoncollege.net/s/850/2col.aspx?sid=850&pgid=1617&gid=1&cid=2784&ecid=2784&post_id=0

  8. coug for life says:

    After the announcement that Chatham’s undergraduate college may become co-ed, alumnae ask the question, “How will the College compete as one of a myriad of co-educational post-secondary institutions in an already saturated region in the future?” Chatham upper administration has failed to answer this question sufficiently. The common response is that by accepting males, the school will attract more females (we alumnae are assured this is all precautionary and that the school isn’t in the red yet). All answers are based on an unnamed study used by Chatham but not presented to interested parties. Also, all results are based on the short-term. What nobody has discussed is how the school cut costs during economic downturn. Economies have slow-downs, but higher education never seems to prepare for these sure future events. At some point, when Chatham might think about reducing spending, alumnae hear about admitting more students and expanding the campus (Eden Hall). More students and more infrastructure mean more expenses and more administrative costs in the future. Chatham instead answers these questions by citing a study that focused on nine formerly women’s only institutions that converted to co-education in the recent past. Chatham states that eight of the nine schools are doing well in their financial future. Some important notes for the results of the study that even Chatham points out are 1) fewer males today are choosing college and 2) most liberal arts institutions are forecasting a difficult future. I asked Chatham, on the University-approved blog for Q&A, some questions which they took into mediation and never posted. I included some statistics I found from a 2012 study conducted by consulting firm Bain & Company called “The Sustainable University.” This survey compared the costs colleges/universities/tech schools incurred (in percentage points) versus their changes in equity over a five year period. I decided to look at some of the nine schools Chatham cited as doing well after going co-ed in this study.
    In the study, Chatham reduced expenses by 8% but also saw a decrease in equity of 13%. Of the schools cited as performing well after the change, Immaculata University saw a 7% decrease in expenses and a 1% decrease in equity. Lesley saw a 9% increase in expenses with a 4% decrease in equity. Chestnut Hill, listed at the bottom third of all schools in the study, saw a 12% increase in expenses and a 10% decrease in equity. While the study does not explain why or how spending/equity increased or decreased, the numbers from the converted schools are not stellar, nor drastically different from Chatham, and they do not indicate a necessarily stable financial future. Of all of the schools in the study, most impressive was Hood College’s 20% decrease in spending. Why has nobody asked what Hood did to reduce spending by that amount, and if a representative of Chatham did ask, why would s/he not explain this to alumnae? The monolithic land of education is slow to change, but now when education has become a business, change is necessary. Being unique is important, and in an area saturated with colleges and universities, differentiation is more important than ever. If Chatham College for Women could find a way to market itself appropriately and not aim to become too big for itself (thereby incurring more and more costs), it may be able to better weather the storm of economic downturn in the future.

  9. Excellent work, coug for life!

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