Coed era dawning at Hood

November 04, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Hood College will enter a new era next fall when men are allowed to live on the Frederick campus for the first time in the 109-year history of the private women's college.

Coed supporters say the financially driven decision made by Hood's board of trustees on Oct. 17 marks the start of a promising and exciting new era in which boarding men will add diversity to the classroom and residential experience.

"I think it's a very wise and forward-thinking move," said Martin Foys, assistant English professor. "I don't think the inclusion of males will compromise all the good that's going on here."


Some Hood students, administrators, faculty members and alumni envision an expansion of academic and recreational offerings that will meet male students' needs while broadening options for female students.

And they welcome the new revenue stream that will fund these improvements.

"I can only see growth from this decision," Senior Class President Emily Johnson said. "I feel strongly that the board made the best decision, the only decision, they could make."

Even most of those who mourn the imminent end of the all-female residential experience - which they say nurtures academic achievement and lasting friendships - acknowledge the historic move is necessary for Hood to avoid major cuts or even extinction.

"I don't love the idea. I think it will change the whole climate of Hood," said senior psychology major Olga Marrero. "But of course I don't want the school to go bankrupt."

Hood College President Ronald J. Volpe says the coeducational leap is the largest of several necessary changes in store for a small liberal arts school that must evolve to survive.

"It was not only an issue of surviving but of what we would look like, what we would have to lose, if we remained on this course," said Volpe, who was inaugurated last fall as Hood's 10th president.

Coed preference

The heart of the problem is this: About 97 percent of young women today want to attend a coeducational college or university. Women will be more likely to enroll at Hood if men live on campus, college officials say.

About one-third of the 650 beds in Hood's residence halls are empty, Volpe said. Only 420 of the college's 820 undergraduate students live on campus, and undergraduate enrollment has steadily declined, he said.

Aggressive recruiting and administrative personnel changes contributed to an increase in the number of freshmen enrollees this fall, but school officials don't count on the numbers to keep growing if Hood remains closed to resident males.

Hood officials have had to dip into the college's $8 million unrestricted endowment fund - donations which aren't earmarked for specific programs and services - to cover operating costs that exceed income from students because fewer and fewer females enroll each year at all-women's colleges, Volpe said.

For an institution not buoyed by state funding, dwindling enrollments mean a shortage of the tuition (about $19,600 per year) and housing (about $7,200 per year) dollars needed to sustain academic programs, college professionals and campus services, Volpe said.

As the president of his all-male college told Volpe and the other male students who decades ago protested that school's decision to go coed, he said, "You can say you graduated from a college that housed and educated men and women, or you can say you graduated from a college that no longer exists."

Most Hood students and alumni - even those who lament the loss of the college's all-female residential tradition - choose the former.

"In 10 years, I'd rather see a thriving alma mater here than a Kmart," Johnson, a native of Greencastle, Pa., said soon after she learned of the decision. "Besides, it's a coed world, people."

The realization that interest was waning in single-sex schools hit Class of '79 graduate Elizabeth Ditto Lillard when neither her daughter nor her niece expressed any interest in attending all-women's institutions, she said.

"So the board's decision didn't surprise me," said Lillard, of Clear Spring. "I'm supportive of the change."

Foys hopes the expected increase in the number of men on campus will benefit the college's theater department, he said.

"Now, we do 'Little Women' every year," Johnson said, laughing.

Social changes

More men on campus will also enhance resident students' social lives, add new perspectives to classroom discussions and stimulate the competition that can spur intellectual growth, senior psychology major Rebecca Morse said.

Conversely, the presence of more men in the classroom might stifle the self-expression of women who feel less vulnerable in a female-dominated environment, Marrero said.

"I think it's important that women have a sanctuary, a place they can go and not feel pressured," she said.

Marrero and others said they chose to attend a predominantly female college, in part, because of the sense of sisterhood a single-sex residential school tends to foster.

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