Higher Education Students

What We Lose When a Sweet Briar Folds

It was announced last week that Sweet Briar College, the 114-year-old women’s school in Virginia, will be closing at the end of this academic year. This is a sad event in American higher education. When a college with such a distinctive character and historical mission goes out of existence, academe loses something irreplaceable.

I recall reading recently—I don’t remember where—the remarks of a Canadian citizen on the wide variety of different colleges and universities in the United States. She found it difficult to imagine such a diverse group of schools arising in any other nation.

But like America, American higher education is a melting pot. Many institutions were founded separately, in different states, by different organizations, with different aims. The whole group has never been subjected to standardization, nor would doing so seem advisable to the American spirit.

This history has produced a rich tapestry of distinctive schools that serve a wide range of individual needs. A local example of such a school is Sojourner-Douglass College, which, unfortunately, is also experiencing great difficulties. Its enrollment is largely composed of adult African-American students getting a second-chance at a higher education that will improve their lives.

Like Sojourner-Douglass, Sweet Briar filled an individual niche. Both schools have been perfect homes for the learners who found their way to them. The loss of such special institutions would be a misfortune for any community.

When we lose a Sweet Briar, the community of colleges loses a unique member of the fellowship of higher education. But much more regrettably, future students who would have found a perfect home at Sweet Briar will no longer have the opportunity. And for that, the entire nation should lament.