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Going coed an overdue change for Notre Dame of Maryland | READER COMMENTARY

The Knott Science Center at Notre Dame of Maryland University. The school's undergraduate program will admit male students to its freshman class for the first time beginning in fall 2023. File. (Linda Coan/Baltimore Sun).

The original purpose of women’s colleges in the late 1800s was to give women who were excluded from attending many colleges and universities access to postsecondary education. The number of women’s colleges peaked in the 1960s and has been on a downward slide over the last 60 years as many of those schools became coed or merged with other institutions of higher education. The majority of women’s colleges today have small student populations and limited endowments. There is a simple reason that the number of women’s colleges have dropped from 230 in 1960 to 26 today: These programs have not been financially viable.

Thankfully, the women’s college is a small part of Notre Dame of Maryland University. Over the last 30 years, Notre Dame evolved into a graduate dominated institution with accredited and financially profitable programs in pharmacy, education and nursing while still maintaining its women’s college. Over 60% of the degrees awarded at NDMU are graduate degrees. These programs are all coeducational. It is due to the success of the graduate programs that the institution is close to becoming eligible for the prestigious Carnegie classification of doctoral research university. Importantly, the graduate programs bring in the money that keeps the institution going.

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It took Notre Dame of Maryland University’s Board of Trustees many a moon to finally realize that maintaining the women’s college as presently structured was a lost cause (”Notre Dame of Maryland University will go coed starting next fall,” Sept. 13). Enrollment in the women’s college at Notre Dame has been declining for years. To prop up enrollment, the institution increased its rate of discounted tuition. Increasing the discount rate improved enrollment in the short run, but decreased profitability in the long run, and even with heavy discounting, current full-time enrollment in the program is well below the number needed for financial viability. The board’s action to admit men into the program provides an opportunity for the institution to reverse the long-term trend of enrollment declines in the women’s college without the heavy discounting of tuition of recent years, perhaps taking the pressure off the graduate programs to generate sufficient revenue to bankroll the entire institution.

NDMU claims to be an inclusive welcoming institution to all, and that inclusive welcoming environment includes men. Men have been admitted into the weekend college since 1975 and all graduate programs since 1984, and men have been admitted into the undergraduate degree completion program (called CAUS) for years. Yet, for all of the claims of inclusive welcoming, undergraduate men were second class citizens when taking classes in the women’s college. Thanks to the action of the trustees on Sept. 13, that second class status will evaporate starting in the fall of 2023.

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It is a change long overdue!

— Mark Fenster, Baltimore

The writer is president of Notre Dame of Maryland University’s Faculty Senate.

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