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More Programs - and More Men - at Traditionally Women's Mary Baldwin

In part two of our series about the changing face of single-sex education, WMRA's Jessie Knadler explores what Mary Baldwin University is doing, in addition to pushing for greater racial and ethnic diversity, to stay relevant and competitive in an increasingly co-ed world.

VOICE OF CHAPLAIN KATHERINE LOW::  …We have built our legacy for 175 years and have prevailed. We shall no longer be called Mary Baldwin College, but Mary Baldwin University

That's Chaplain Katherine Low speaking at an August event celebrating the school’s legal name change from Mary Baldwin College to Mary Baldwin University.*

The name change comes at a time when many small liberal arts colleges and women’s colleges in particular face enormous financial pressures, if not endangerment. To stay competitive, Mary Baldwin has had to reposition itself by expanding into new markets. Not only has it quietly become one of the most ethnically and racially diverse campuses in the country – 51 percent of the current student body identifies as non-white – but it’s beefing up its course offerings and degree opportunities, particularly at the graduate level. Here’s MBU President Pamela Fox at the name change ceremony in August.

PAMELA FOX:  We’ve really had this philosophy since the 1970s, but now we’ve really escalated it, calling out the Mary Baldwin College for Women as the single-sex heart of the institution but surrounding it with an innovative series of co-educational undergraduate and graduate programs.

The current strategic plan calls for simply sustaining enrollment at the undergraduate women’s college, which is just over 650 students, while expanding enrollment in all the coeducational programs that orbit the classic women’s college.  This part of the school numbers just over 1000.  This is where the growth is.

The business school will launch its first MBA program next fall. The school will award its first doctoral degree in May. The $28 million Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences, also co-ed, rolls out more masters programs in healthcare this spring.

CHARLES BEACOM:   The inter-professional aspect of what Murphy Deming Mary Baldwin offers is something that I think a lot of healthcare professions clinics need to start utilizing because it’s huge in terms of patient care.

Charles Beacom, 25, is in the doctorate of occupational therapy program at Murphy Deming. He’s sort of the embodiment of the “new” face of the school. Number one: He’s a guy. Okay, Mary Baldwin has been admitting men to its graduate and adult learning programs for decades, but they still only make up 10 percent of the student body. The hope is that with more graduate and online opportunities, more men will enroll.

BEACOM:  I mean [laughs] I’m actually the only male in our current OT program. It’s definitely taken some getting used to.

Number two, he’s getting a doctorate. Number three: It’s in occupational therapy, which is a departure from Mary Baldwin’s classic liberal arts roots.

This is another area where Mary Baldwin is evolving under Fox. A traditional liberal arts degree, the thinking goes, is not enough to launch a successful career in today’s world. You need networking. You need professional development. For someone like Charles, you need to interface with patients in an actual hospital. In this way, MBU is starting to look more like a professional school.

BEACOM:  We do field work every semester…. It’s easy for us as students I think to get caught up in the whole academic portion of it but I don’t think we realize how much we know until we get out there and we can show what we do know and it’s actually really impressive, how well they prepared us for this, for the real world. 

Low enrollment majors such as French and religion have been cut or consolidated while more career oriented programs like criminal justice and social work have been expanded. Here’s Kelsey Allen, a senior studying criminal justice.

KELSEY ALLEN:  Going to a women’s college isn’t as popular because I guess girls like boys, the party aspect. We don’t really have that. It’s more about women encouraging women.

This points to a major challenge for the school. Trying to honor its traditional women’s only legacy while aggressively delivering the needs of the 21st century student. Here’s President Fox again...

FOX:  I would say one of the biggest challenges is just to continue the balance of our tradition and our innovation and to continue bringing all the newer parts of the institution into one family.

Here’s MBU alum Kara Jenkins, class of 2011.

KARA JENKINS:  We still are very deep in our traditions. We have junior dad’s which is our ring ceremony, Apple Day, Senior May Fest, type of thing, but we’re really trying to look to the future to how women can be leaders in their fields.  President Fox is a wonderful president and she’s really tried to think of different programs that will keep Mary Baldwin thriving for the future.

*An earlier version of this story misidentified the speaker at beginning of this story as Board of Trustees Chair Jane Harding Miller. That is incorrect. The correct speaker is Chaplain Katherine Low. The mistake has since been updated.

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