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October 07, 2013

Wellesley College. (Flickr/be11boy)

Today, there are only about 50 women's colleges left in the U.S. That’s down from more than 250 in 1950. Twice in the past six months, trustees at traditionally women’s colleges have voted to go coed: Pennsylvania’s Wilson College in January and then right here in WGBH’s backyard Pine Manor College in July.

Last week, we asked our readers for their opinions on women's colleges. Specifically, we asked them whether they attended a women's college or not, why they did, and what role should these schools play in the shifting higher education landscape. We got some very informative responses, and we've decided to share them with you here.

Rosalyn from Philadelphia, for instance, expressed her belief that,  "All women's colleges teach women how to use their power beyond their sexuality. It reminds us that we are human and develops confidence where there might have been none. They allow us to focus on our educational and career goals, rather than being forced to consider our hormonal or relationship goals".

Jenni from New York said that she attended a women's college originally because, "it was a small college with a unique mission: providing young women with a strong liberal arts education and at the same time preparing them for a profession." However, she eventually realized other positive aspects of her choice, stating that, "long before the women's liberation movement, we were recognized as unique individuals free to determine our own places in the world. Without the distraction of coed classes, we were highly competitive with each other and developed strong leadership skills."  

As for the role of women's colleges in today's evolving landscape, Jenni says women's colleges should continue to be "a place where women can build the leadership skills they need in today's world, in ways that are simply impossible in a co-ed environment."

Another fascinating response came from Amy of Pennsylvania, who, in response to the question of the roles of women's colleges in the contemporary environment, said that the changing number of colleges is a function of supply and demand. Changing times make for changes in numbers in response to demand, citing the success of the Women's Movement as a clear reason as to why there has been such a dramatic drop in the number of women's colleges in the nation. But she provides a word of caution, saying "no one is claiming that there is no need for women's colleges, just that the supply needs to be equal to the demand."

Anne of Virginia makes the point that although there is a decline in the number of women's colleges, there is still a need for them, stating that, "women's colleges are still sorely needed for a number of reasons: to allow women the opportunity to become leaders by occupying all of the leadership roles, to allow women to find their voices - which are too often drowned out by the male students at co-ed institutions, and to assist women in keeping their self-esteem, which can also tend to be lost at a coed campus".

Almost all responses stated that women's colleges were places that helped empower women and envelop their competitiveness with out the distraction of a co-ed environment. Almost all tended to reflect positively the benefit of a small, liberal arts institution for women, and some even expressed the opinion that there should be more larger women's universities, which would be a big step beyond the scope of mostly small women's colleges that dominate women's education.  

WGBH intern Stanley Yu compiled this report.

confronting cost, women's colleges, increasing access and success

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