The fight to save Sweet Briar: Alumnae launch crowdfunding campaign

Group also seeks to block closure

Alumnae of Sweet Briar College, which announced that it will close because of financial challenges, are working to save the school through fundraising and legal action.

Sweet Briar President John F. Jones, Jr. made the announcement Tuesday. The move was somewhat unusual because the Virginia-based women's college has a significant endowment and good reputation. But in a video, Jones explains that trouble loomed on the horizon and school officials found no strategies that would keep the school open for more than a few years.

Alumnae were surprised. Laurel Lee Harvey, a 1990 graduate, told the Washington Post that she wished the board had asked for help before making the decision. "If the request had been made, the answer would have been an emphatic yes," she says, adding, "The world needs to know that Sweet Briar women did not desert their alma mater."

In absence of a formal request for help from the school, alumnae have organized their own salvation efforts. More than 165 alumnae joined a conference call to discuss ways to obtain an injunction and block the closure. Student and alumnae rallied support on Twitter, using the hashtag #SaveSweetBriar.

Some alumnae created a crowdfunding page featuring the slogan "Think is for girls" and proposing a $250 million goal, the amount Jones said he would need in order to save the school in an interview Wednesday afternoon.

Six steps for creating a successful crowdfunding campaign from EAB's Advancement Forum

Others are working to comfort mourning students. The announcement triggered rounds of sobbing and a run on branded items at the campus bookstore.

As for what will happen to current students, school officials are partnering with other liberal arts colleges in the region to smooth the transfer pathway. Virginia Commonwealth University and Agnes Scott College in Atlanta are among the institutions that have made special accommodations for Sweet Briar students.

There were also many questions Wednesday about the meaning of Sweet Briar's decision for similar schools around the country. Sweet Briar's board cited declining interest in women's colleges in its announcement, and the data seem to bear that out. The number of women's colleges has declined from 230 in 1960 to just 47 in 2014.

Sustaining mission in an era of constrained resources

But Nancy Oliver Gray, president of Hollins College, disagrees. "I do not believe it is all over for women's education," she told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The wide variety of colleges available is the main strength of American higher education, she says, and "I firmly believe there is a very, very important role for our institutions" (Shapiro/Svrluga, Washington Post, 3/4; Kapsidelis, Richmond Times-Dispatch, 3/4; Pounds, News & Advance, 3/4).

The takeaway: Alumnae of Sweet Briar College are working to save their alma mater through a combination of legal action and crowdfunding.

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