Wilson College Announces Athletics Program Changes (wilson.edu)

As part of an ongoing evaluation of varsity sports teams, Wilson College has decided to make two changes to its athletics program.

Beginning in fall 2013, Wilson will add women’s and men’s cross country to its other fall team sports, field hockey and women’s soccer. The addition of cross country aligns Wilson with the rest of the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) and will be the first sport offered for male student-athletes.

Women’s basketball will remain as Wilson’s only winter varsity sport until the addition  of men’s basketball in 2014. The College will continue to field teams in softball and women’s lacrosse during the spring season.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) requires Division III institutions to compete in five sports, with at least one in each season. In 2013, Wilson will field three sports in the fall, one in the winter and two in the spring.

Armed with Data, a Women’s College Tries a Transformation (Chronicle of Higher Education)

February 4, 2013,

By Lawrence Biemiller

Chambersburg, Pa.

Can Wilson College be saved? The answer you get depends on whom you ask.

Its trustees say yes, even though Wilson’s numbers look fairly bleak right now, like those of many small liberal-arts colleges. Wilson started the fall semester with only 695 students, expects to run a $3-million deficit on a $20-million budget this year, and has $10-million worth of deferred maintenance.
Wilson College

A protest banner at Wilson College, which recently decided to admit men, reads: “You said we would have a voice, why is no one listening?”

But on January 13, its trustees approved a series of ambitious recommendations from its president, Barbara K. Mistick, and a commission of faculty and staff members, trustees, alumnae, and students who spent thousands of hours last summer and fall researching ways to secure the college’s financial future. Among other changes, the board approved cutting tuition by $5,000, starting a high-profile loan-buyback program, creating new offerings in the health sciences and other career-oriented disciplines, and consolidating some existing programs. The goal: 1,500 students and a deficit-free budget by 2020.

Some alumnae and students, however, insist that the Wilson they love will die unless the trustees rescind a vote approving the most controversial of the commission’s recommendations: that the 144-year-old college admit men as full-time undergraduates. Although Wilson has welcomed men to its adult-degree and graduate programs for years, the decision to make the undergraduate college coed has provoked howls of protest and vigils outside of board meetings. “Better Dead Than Coed” signs have even been spotted on the campus.

In part, Wilson’s need to reposition itself is a consequence of its own unusual circumstances. It’s an outlier even among the 45 or so remaining women’s colleges: The others, if they don’t have close ties to nearby coed colleges, are either in or near big cities or attract students seeking a conservative, religious culture.

But the changes are also attempts to respond to trends buffeting liberal-arts colleges everywhere. A weak job market has led students and their families to seek career guarantees, and advocates of the liberal arts have had trouble making the case that their institutions prepare graduates for a lifetime’s worth of different jobs and assignments. And while colleges’ costs continue to rise, families’ incomes are largely stagnant, and students are less willing to make up the difference with loans that will leave them cash-strapped for years.

In an unusually public process, Wilson’s administrators and trustees have tried hard to make a solid, data-driven case for changes they say are absolutely essential to the college’s fiscal future. What they have discovered, however, is that almost no policy discussion nowadays can avoid the kind of name-calling and mistrust that have become staples of Congressional debate, the 24-hour cable-news cycle, and online flame wars.
‘Wild Wilson Women’

“When people feel they aren’t being treated right, they get loud,” a young alumna named Theresa Retz wrote on the college’s Facebook page, posting as Taela Dragonfox, an alter ego she uses as an artist. “All of my fellow alums that I have spoken to are outraged at this decision.”

The long Facebook thread to which she contributed was itself an indication of how divisive the situation has become—it had more than 80 comments on Wilson’s decision to delete a series of earlier Facebook posts because some backers of coeducation found them threatening. Meanwhile, a 1,400-member Facebook group calling itself Wild Wilson Women blocked nonmembers from its page soon after participants began strategizing about how to force the trustees to reverse course and whether to stage a protest during graduation.

That said, the college has no plans to poll either its students or its 8,000 or so alumnae on the coeducation question, and it’s unclear how many of either actually oppose it. Mary Ann Naso, vice president for enrollment, cites a telling statistic: Only about one applicant a year is the daughter of an alumna.

Nor do the trustees intend to revisit any of the planned changes. “A number of alums are saying, ‘Do what you need to do,'” says Leslie Durgin, a trustee who served as chairwoman of the Commission on Shaping the Future of Wilson College. But Ms. Durgin, a former mayor of Boulder, Colo., who is now a senior vice president at Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, says she didn’t anticipate “the extent of the feedback” on admitting men.

“I think we gave everyone an opportunity to be engaged,” President Mistick says, “though I know some may not like the outcome. This is really about all of us, and there’s going to be some noise about that.”

Wilson’s modest campus, with its mix of Victorian and Collegiate Gothic buildings, has seen turmoil and change before. In 1979 the trustees voted to close the college, which they thought had no viable future, and students and alumnae sued to keep it open. Wilson subsequently added the coed adult-degree program and also an innovative program that lets single mothers attend and live on campus with their children. But enrollment remained flat, and the college mostly lacked the money to renovate or repair buildings.

Wilson’s one big capital improvement, the 2009 science center, represents a bet that the college lost: Before the economy collapsed in 2008, the trustees were persuaded to invest money donated for the $25-million building and to take out a loan to pay for it, rather than paying the contractors directly. In the lively prerecession financial market, that sounded like a smart idea, but by the time the building opened, the investments had been largely wiped out and only the loan remained, casting a growing shadow over each successive year’s budget. The college is now paying only interest on the debt, but in 2019 it must start making payments of about $1-million a year on the principal.

An Open Process

The debate over coeducation had been building for several months, online as well as in a series of open meetings scheduled by the commission to keep the college community apprised of its progress and to solicit suggestions. As laid out by Ms. Mistick, the commission process was meant not only to take advantage of many of Wilson’s best minds but also to bring alumnae and students along for what were clearly going to be tough decisions—especially since the college kept its deteriorating financial situation largely hidden from alumnae until Ms. Mistick became president in July 2011.

She said from the start that everything was on the table, including coeducation—which, once it was an option, may well have been inevitable. Wilson hasn’t met its 400-student target for its undergraduate program since 1973, and this year the program began with just 316 students. Still, everyone involved was mindful of protests that erupted in 2011 when Peace College’s trustees, with no warning, announced that the North Carolina liberal-arts college would go coed and change its name to William Peace University.

In meetings that were streamed online for Wilson alumnae who couldn’t make it to Chambersburg, commission members outlined the challenges Wilson faces as a small-town, tuition-driven college with far too many empty dorm rooms, a library shuttered because of steam leaks, and a field house unimproved since 1966. They talked frankly about data compiled by a consulting firm, Stevens Strategy, that showed where the college’s programs do and don’t match potential students’ interests and how much students would be willing to pay for various offerings.

As the number of hours that commission members spent in meetings ran into the hundreds, PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide emerged suggesting that if the college did not go coed, no combination of other changes could keep it solvent.

Without admitting men, the annual deficit in 2020 would be $2.5-million even if the college added appealing programs, improved facilities, and beefed up marketing, said Michael G. Cornelius, the associate professor of English who led the commission’s marketing subcommittee, at an open meeting in November. Too few young women—only 2 to 3 percent—will consider attending a single-sex college, the survey data showed, whereas going coed would actually attract more women to the college than men. Based on the experience of other women’s colleges that have admitted men, such as Wells and Hood Colleges, Mr. Cornelius predicted that in 10 years, Wilson would have a healthy enrollment that would be only 30 percent male.

All fall, alumnae and students peppered commission members with ideas, questions, and opinions, but mostly they argued against admitting men. At the November meeting, Maggie Sipps, a senior, read aloud a particularly memorable statement while she choked back tears. “We are comfortable in our classes because we are the majority,” she said, while going coed would send a message “that we cannot stand on our own, that we are inferior and incompetent.” There are “some things that analyzing data cannot measure,” she concluded, to applause.

A solid majority of trustees approved the recommendations last month, however, after a six-week delay so that the president and the commission could supply some additional information. “There are certainly good things to say about single sex-institutions, but we had to look at it from the perspective of what’s the best for the financial viability of this institution,” says the board chairman, John W. Gibb. A former Sallie Mae executive who is now a managing director at Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial-real-estate company, Mr. Gibb describes the bottom line for the college simply: “The market changes, and you have to change with it.”

Ms. Durgin, the commission’s chairwoman, says Wilson’s student population has indeed changed significantly since she was an undergraduate herself. “In 65, when I entered, it was with a lot of students who had wanted to go to Smith or Mount Holyoke,” she says. Now, the majority of Wilson students are the first members of their families to attend college, and they and their families are struggling to pay the bills. Tuition and fees for a full-time undergraduate living on campus come in just under $40,000 this year, but the majority of students receive some kind of scholarship, and on average, students pay about $10,000 less.

“The other major piece now is that parents and students are saying college should lead to a job,” Ms. Durgin says. “We’re already a hybrid college, with both a vocational aspect and the liberal arts.” She adds that the dean, Mary Hendrickson, “was terrific in saying that we embed the liberal arts in everything we do.”

The debate over coeducation has threatened to drown out discussion about the other commission recommendations that won approval from the trustees, even though some of those, too, represent significant changes in Wilson’s traditions.

The most unusual is the loan-buyback program, the details of which remain to be set. But the general idea is that if a student completes the undergraduate curriculum in an allotted amount of time, Wilson will buy back up to $10,000 of that student’s federal Stafford loans. Not only is the idea unusual enough to help the admissions office market Wilson, but it should also help improve the college’s loan-default rates and its retention statistics, which Mr. Cornelius described in November as “minimally 15 to 20 percent lower than they need to be.”

The other cost-related change is the $5,000 decrease in the sticker price of tuition, which is $28,745 this year. The plan is to reduce discounting more, so that net revenue will increase. William K. Shoemaker, an assistant professor of education who led the commission’s subcommittee on pricing, says his group thought the current sticker price made the college look like a poor value relative to competing institutions, like nearby Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania.

The trustees also committed to raising spending on facilities, including a renovation of the shuttered 1925 library and improvements in athletic facilities. A late-breaking priority item on the to-do list is a student center, since the temporary library now occupies a favorite student hangout, Sarah’s Coffeehouse. Ms. Mistick says students’ comments to the commission highlighted the importance of a student center, which “was not on my radar screen.”

The other big recommendation was that the college create a suite of Web- and classroom-based health-science offerings, since students planning to go to college rank the health sciences at the top of their career choices. Wilson already has strong science and veterinary-medical-technology majors, and the commission suggested complementing them with an online nursing program and on-campus programs in nutrition, speech pathology, and physical therapy.

Also on the list of possible offerings are a low-residency Master of Fine Arts in choreography, an online associate degree in business, a bachelor’s degree in graphic design, and an addition to the education certificates that are already offered. The commission also suggested, and the trustees approved, making it easier for students to transfer to Wilson, spending more on marketing, and hiring an administrator to develop and support nontraditional programs, whether online or on-campus.

“The most daunting challenge will be implementing programs, from the point of view of resources and time,” says Mr. Shoemaker. But he says the programs “give us a good shot at thriving,” much to the relief of faculty and staff members.
The Size Challenge

Indeed, the recommendations have united almost all of the faculty behind Ms. Mistick, who got a standing ovation at a faculty meeting in December—an event that several professors said was unusual in light of the faculty’s history of tense relations with Ms. Mistick’s predecessor. “There was more transparency and clarity about the state of the college during the commission process than during the entire decade preceding,” says Larry Shillock, an associate professor of English.

For faculty members, he says, a big concern now “is that the college not grow in ways that compromise engagement with faculty.” Wilson’s current size has drawbacks, of course—particularly because many students leave on weekends—but faculty members can offer students individual attention. “We need to move efficiently from being a too-small college to being a small college,” says Mr. Shillock.

He’s not the only professor worried about managing growth. Julie Raulli, an associate professor of sociology who directs the women’s-studies program, says that with so few students, “You end up going to art openings and dance performances—we see students more fully.”

“That makes a difference—showing an interest in your students, not just in what they’re doing in the classroom,” she says. On the other hand, she looks forward to a larger enrollment that will enliven on-campus life.

As for admitting men, “We’re going to lose something,” Ms. Raulli says. “I can’t put my finger on it—I think this change is going to be very difficult.” But she adds, “Men can be feminists too.”

That’s the hope here, certainly—that Wilson can deftly incorporate male students into the classroom and campus cultures that generations of female students have helped create. Mr. Cornelius, the English professor who wrote the commission’s report, says he’s read widely about women-centered education in an attempt to define how it differs from education centered on men. The latter he describes as “competitive, self-centered, and self-focused—it’s designed only to improve the self, it’s focused on success, and it’s conformative.”

“Women-centered education is something that really rejects those values,” he says. “It has three pillars. The first is security—everyone can feel safe to explore their identity as individuals, every individual is respected for who they are. The second is service—your education is not just about you and improving your station in life, but about making sure you extend that privilege to others. The third is success, but not really in the sense of accruing material possessions—it’s moral success, ethical success. That old happiness factor.”

Mr. Cornelius and other faculty members, male and female alike, say they’re fairly sure Wilson can maintain its commitment to those values. “If being women-centered just means we don’t let men live in the residence halls, we’re really not doing anything,” he says, “as opposed to ensuring that our culture respects every individual.”

“The paradox is that women-centered classrooms are also good for men,” says Mr. Shillock. “Men like it here—that’s what they tell us.”

As for the complaints from opponents of coeducation, Mr. Cornelius says commission members “wanted to be driven by data and do an enormous amount of study”—and by enormous, he means he contributed at least 650 hours to the effort, including meetings, research, and writing.

From that, he says, “You have to let the narrative unfold as it has to. You’re never going to make everyone happy, and that’s OK.”

Ms. Mistick, whom some alumnae critics have taken to calling “President Mistake,” has her own take on the issue: She says that being a college president is not for the thin-skinned.

“The issues for the college are very real. There are deadlines we have to meet out in the future.” Deferring the coeducation decision for a couple of years to see whether the other changes would suffice on their own, as some alumnae have asked her to do, “doesn’t meet that requirement.”

And she knows that the college has, at this point, taken only the first steps toward sustainability—a lot of difficult work lies ahead, and chances are good that not everything will go smoothly.

Still, she says, “I feel very firmly that this was the right process for us. It was messy, though. When you have change you have to deal with the mess at one point or another.”


Seeking Enrollment Boost, Wilson College Will Admit Men (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

January 13, 2013, By Lawrence Biemiller

Wilson College’s Board of Trustees voted on Sunday afternoon to begin accepting men to the college’s traditional undergraduate program and to adopt a series of other recommendations aimed at broadening the liberal-arts institution’s educational offerings, improving its facilities, and strengthening its position in the admissions market.

The decision to admit men came over the anguished protests of some alumnae and students, but with the support of others. The goal is to increase enrollment, now below 700, to about 1,500 by 2020. The college began the current academic year with 316 women in the traditional undergraduate program and 379 men and women in the adult-degree program.

Consultants told the college that only a tiny fraction of high-school women would consider attending a single-sex institution, but that going coed could increase the number of women applying, in addition to attracting men. Only about 45 women’s colleges remain, depending on what criteria are used to define them.

Wilson, with an endowment of more than $60-million, ran deficits in three of the past four years and has seen enrollment remain stagnant. It faces a looming budget hurdle in 2019, when it will have to begin making payments of about $1-million a year on the
principal of a loan it took out to build a science complex that opened in 2009.

The trustees decided to admit men to the traditional undergraduate program this coming fall as commuter students, but they won’t be offered space in the residence halls until the fall of 2014. In addition, the college will add programs in health sciences and
renovate several campus buildings, including the library, which is closed. The college will also trim its tuition and adopt a loan-buy back program, the details of which have not yet been made public.

The recommendations were the result of a months-long process in which a commission appointed by Wilson’s president, Barbara K. Mistick, delved deeply into the college’s strengths and weaknesses and debated a wide range of possible changes.

The 23 commission members included trustees, faculty members, alumnae, students, and staff members, and devoted hundreds of hours to research and meetings before forwarding their ideas to Ms. Mistick. She, in turn, settled on a package of 12 suggestions that she presented to the board at a meeting at the end of November.

Some board members, however, balked at being asked to vote so quickly on such significant changes, and the board put off a decision until Sunday. Alumnae and students opposed to coeducation took advantage of the delay to continue their campaign against admitting men, holding meetings, draping campus buildings with signs made out of bedsheets, and selling T-shirts online with the slogan “Empowering Women Since 1869.”

Meanwhile, faculty and staff members waited nervously for a final decision. The college’s next step, administrators said on Sunday afternoon, will be to appoint a committee to put into effect the changes adopted by the board.


UPDATE: Wilson College trustees vote to admit men (Public Opinion)

By SAMANTHA COSSICK @SCossickPO Chambersburg Public Opinion


CHAMBERSBURG – The vote of 28 trustees on Sunday changed the future of Wilson College as several initiatives were passed, including the admission of men.

“They took the easy way out,” Wilson senior Ariel Huffman said to friends while crying as the decision was read out loud on the lawns of Wilson to nearly 50 students and alumnae who had gathered to support their beloved school.

Announced via a press release on the college website and Twitter account shortly after 5 p.m., the women who had gathered expressed feelings of anger, sadness and frustration.

“I’m extremely disappointed in the decision announced today and I’m extremely disappointed in the way the decision was communicated to us,” said Melissa Behm, a 1976 alum. “They have deprived future generations of the education and leadership Wilson has given 143 other classes.”

Meeting in a special session Sunday, the board approved a set of recommendations from Wilson President Barbara K. Mistick. The measures were passed in an effort to rejuvenate the private all-women’s college as well as potentially double enrollment over the next 10 years.

“I’m very confident that the course the board approved today is the right framework for the future and will send us on a successful path,” Mistick said. “Over time there is a need for the college to change to ensure the long-term viability of the college. That’s what I believe our trustees have done today.”

The board’s vote was a very “emotional issue,” said John Gibb, chairman of the board of trustees, but one that was made with a lot of deliberation and a lot of data.

The board was originally slated to vote on Dec. 1 but instead postponed the decision.

“We’re looking at where we were and where we wanted to go,” he said. “Enrollment in the College for Women has never gone over 400 in the last 40 years. We’re a very small college and I think that to be sustainable, I think, you need to have a larger (enrollment).”

This new blueprint was based on strategic initiatives from the Commission on Shaping the Future of Wilson College, a 23-member panel, and includes three main points: admitting men, reducing tuition and expanding degree programs.

Beginning in fall 2013, traditional age men will be allowed to attend Wilson College as commuters. The college will then admit male residential students in fall 2014. Currently, men age 22 and older are allowed to enroll as commuter students and make up about 11 percent of the student body.

“Now that the board has made these decisions today we’ll certainly get the word out as soon as possible. I’m already confident that we’ll be able to make this transition in co-education,” Mistick said. “Long-term, we hope that our enrollment will mirror what you see in higher education now, which is 60 percent female and 40 percent male.”

Tuition at Wilson College will drop by $5,000 to just more than $23,000 a year, an effort that not only counters trends in private colleges but is also something they hope will attract more students.

“Tuition in private colleges has gone sky high,” Gibb said. “The question now for many Americans is how affordable is college and we need to adjust to that.”

Not just holding the line on tuition but actually reducing it sends a message to prospective students that a Wilson education is affordable for anyone, Mistick said.

Additionally, expanding degree programs, such as offering “hot vocational item” health science programs will draw a different set of students to Wilson, Gibb said.

“It is important to us, too, as we add more students we want to make sure we have the right mix of programming for those students,” Mistick said.

Although many of the initiatives passed were encouraging steps forward to keep Wilson a viable institution, alumnae did not agree with all the decisions made by the board of trustees.

A 1980 alum of the school, Nan Laudenslager remembers the 1979 trustee vote to close the school, which was also based on continued declines in enrollment and financial giving.

“I think they mismanaged it again,” she said. “I mean, how do you get like this?”

Others, such as Jean Weller, a 1971 alum, were frustrated that the trustees did not speak to those in attendance directly. Earlier in the afternoon, alumni had gathered inside Warfield Hall to hear the decision but were told by security only students, trustees and administration were allowed inside.

“They stated it would be announced and 45 people came to Wilson to wait for this decision to be announced and the board chose not to speak directly to us,” Weller said.

Prior to the vote announcement, alumnae had been hoping that men would not be admitted just yet but instead the school would be allowed to work on other alternatives.

“The commission had some really good ideas, but we’d like a chance to do some of these things,” said Kendal Hopkins, a 1980 alum.

During an emergency meeting of the Wilson College Alumnae Association on Jan. 5, four task forces were created in conjunction with the school to look at admission, retention, fundraising and marketing while holding off on admitting men.

“That’s a huge vote of confidence in the college by its alumnae,” said Gretchen Van Ness, a 1980 alum.

At the end of the day, Mistick said the college wants and hopes that all of the alums will embrace the changes and continue support the college’s success.

“I know this is an emotional decision today, but I hope in the weeks that come our alums will continue to stand with us,” she said. “I feel confident they’re going to want the college to survive long-term.”

While some may not agree, the vote to include men is a step forward for the college as it strives to continue throughout the 21st century, said Dr. Larry Shillock, associate professor of English.

“The college does quite a few things well,” he said. “The problem is colleges today are tuition driven and tuitiondriven colleges need to cast a wider net. Women’s colleges by their nature cast a narrow net. A single-sex residential college is a 19th century idea. Imagine trying to sell a 19th century idea to a 21st century student.”

Marketing the college has become “somewhat difficult” over the years and it has had problems attracting students, Gibb said. Only 316 students enrolled this past school year.

“We’ve actively marketed the college,” he said. “Could we have increased enrollment by a stronger marketingcampaign? Yeah, maybe. But could we have done it in the numbers we needed to be sustainable, probably not.”———-

Samantha Cossick can be reached at scossick@publicopinionnews.com and 262-4762.

Studying at Wilson

Current enrollment at Wilson College: 695 students

– 316 in the College for Women

– 305 in the Adult Degree Program

– 74 in the graduate programs

Wilson College history

1868 – Sarah Wilson pledges $30,000 for a women’s college proposed by two Presbyterian pastors.

1869 – Wilson College is chartered.

1870 – The college opens with 23 residential students and 42 non-residential. Tuition was $350.

1875 – Enrollment is 83.

1887 – Enrollment is 164.

1895 – Main Hall is completed after disastrous fire a year earlier.

1918 – Campus is quarantined for a flu epidemic.

1946 – Men are accepted as non-resident students.

1970s – Wilson acquires 200-acre campus of Penn Hall Junior College.

1979 – Wilson trustees vote to close the school, but a judge overturns the decision. Equine studies and veterinary

medical technology programs will be added.

1982 – Men can earn degrees for the first time through Wilson’s continuing education program.

1996 – The college offer on-campus, residential education for single mothers with children.

Communication Updates

As most information about progress on the Wilson Today plan now comes in the form of news and stories, we will use today.wilson.edu as an outlet to share these stories. We will begin by posting all of the stories that have been issued to date, so the posts in the coming weeks will be previously published stories that many alumnae/i, students, faculty and staff may have missed.