A new article in The New York Times details a concerted effort on the part of some of the nation’s smaller women’s colleges to admit more students from minority and underprivileged backgrounds. The article focuses specifically on Pine Manor College, located in the exclusive Boston suburb of Chestnut Hill. Pine Manor, which like many all-women’s schools, including my now-co-ed alma mater Sarah Lawrence, was long considered a finishing school where rich girls went to bide their time and get “educated” on how to manage their mansions once they met their Ivy League husbands. Now the school, which used to be almost entirely white, is ranked as the nation’s most diverse liberal arts college, with nearly half of the students identifying as either Black or Hispanic. Despite having achieved their stated goal of becoming more diverse, Pine Manor has suffered some unintended consequences.
As a result of losing so much tuition and having to give out large scholarships, the college is in difficult financial waters; peeling paint now coexists with oak fireplaces and the college’s endowment has taken a substantial hit. Indeed, attempting to increase socio-economic diversity is a difficult thing for smaller colleges to do, even more so than racial diversity. A large amount of money is necessary to offer the aid packages that many poorer students need in order to afford the steep tuition and room and board that private colleges must charge in order to continue operating. The colleges that have been successful at increasing financial diversity are those that have lots of money to spend, such as Cooper Union (real estate and public/private financing) and Harvard (large donations and wealthy students to help subsidize those that cannot pay).