Candy Briar Faculty’s president appears again on what it was wish to take over a school on the point of closing — science weblog
When Meredith Woo took over because the president of Candy Briar Faculty in 2017, the nonprofit Virginia girls’s establishment was seen as a troubled place. Alumnae had wrestled the faculty again from the brink of closure, but it surely nonetheless confronted monetary points, leading to a warning from its accreditor.
Woo just lately introduced that she shall be departing from her position as Candy Briar’s president in spring 2024. She spoke with Greater Ed Dive about her tenure.
This interview has been edited for readability and size.
HIGHER ED DIVE: If you took over as president, Candy Briar was nonetheless within the information for a 2015 closure try, and there have been some accreditation points due to monetary stress. I am curious in case you had any doubts coming into the position.
MEREDITH WOO: Once I got here right here in 2017, I want I may say that I did my due diligence, and that I had studied the funds, that I had studied the lecturers and all of the institutional points of the faculty in addition to I may, and made a smart resolution to steer the establishment going ahead. In actual fact, it wasn’t like that. As a result of irrespective of how arduous I attempted to grasp the state of affairs of the faculty in 2017, it was not that straightforward to grasp what was happening.
However to me, becoming a member of Candy Briar, deciding to steer it, was an act of religion. Candy Briar is not only a really wonderful faculty, but it surely has served for a really very long time as a big cultural, social and financial pillar for Central Virginia.
Faculty shouldn’t be merely a enterprise enterprise or perhaps a nonprofit entity. It truly is an important nationwide treasure, oftentimes for the nation. Candy Briar fills an important position in schooling of girls. At present there are quite a lot of girls on college campuses. In actual fact, there are extra girls than there are males in universities. However there’s a position to be fulfilled by all-women’s establishments, which give really empowering schooling for that small section of girls that would actually profit from it. And so for me, it was a perception that this establishment has the fitting spine, proper constructing blocks, and that with some creativity and creativeness, we are able to make it work.
And about that creativity and creativeness: You made a number of adjustments to the faculty throughout your time as president, some which will have helped its longevity. What do you assume had been essentially the most impactful adjustments?
One is the form of change that’s business-oriented, that’s accomplished instantly, in an effort to make ourselves sustainable. So the very very first thing I did may be referred to as a really complete reset of the faculty — academically, financially and budgetarily.
Academically, this meant eliminating all of our gen ed and creating a brand new form of gen ed, within the type of a really tightly structured girls’s management core curriculum that speaks to the excellence of the liberal arts, however being very a lot intentional in producing girls leaders going ahead via 4 years of superb schooling.
With a purpose to appeal to college students, we determined to alter the regime of our funds. So as an alternative of getting a regime of very excessive sticker worth, and really excessive low cost price, we determined to make our tuition very clear, but additionally deploy greater than 200 completely different endowment accounts for scholarships to offer affordable benefit scholarships for our college students. And in order that was a really radical change that entailed a tuition reset, of near 40%, when it comes to discount in tuition, to make our tuition reasonably priced.
Once I first got here right here, we had lower than 200 college students. And we had 85 school members with 45 majors. And so we lowered the variety of majors by half, and in addition made changes in school and workers measurement, in an effort to make it proportional or acceptable for the scholar physique that we had. None of this was very straightforward.
The second set of adjustments had been way more structural, and people include two issues.
One was making a five-year motion plan, step-by-step, to attempt to intensify issues that Candy Briar is or may very well be arguably higher at than anyone else. And the opposite one was engaged on the infrastructure of the faculty.
For the five-year plan going ahead, we emphasised 5 issues that we may be really distinguished in. One is the agenda of constructing our core with a management curriculum pretty much as good because it may very well be.
Two, to make our efforts with sustainability very innovative. And it is a very attention-grabbing factor, as a result of Candy Briar’s campus is arguably one of the stunning within the nation.
The third factor is that we’re the one engineering program totally ABET accredited, which solely has girls college students within the classroom. In a classroom with out misogyny and intimidation, our college students thrive.
The fourth factor that Candy Briar is absolutely good at, we’ve got the oldest equestrian program within the nation. By far the perfect equestrian program amongst liberal arts faculties. We’re going to honor that legacy by constructing significant tutorial packages round it. In order that it may be a program that is actually complete when it comes to athletics, profession paths, in addition to teachers.
After which lastly, the hassle to make Candy Briar right into a vacation spot in Virginia and within the nation.
And whereas we’re doing this, we additionally haven’t misplaced any time, particularly throughout the pandemic, to spend money on the buildings, infrastructure, and within the land. Candy Briar Faculty is without doubt one of the very uncommon faculties the place the complete core of the campus is a Nationwide Register Historic District. We invested in creating 20 acres of winery, wildflower meadows, together with an apiary, and we created a 27,000-square-foot greenhouse, the place girls will discover ways to produce the meals that they eat.
Candy Briar has had a really engaged alumnae community, and so they had been very energetic in combating the 2015 closure try. What was it like working someplace with such an engaged community of graduates?
It is fabulous. You already know, lots of people mentioned, within the aftermath of 2015, that the form of assist and keenness that the alumnae confirmed, and the amount of cash they gave would very quickly dissipate. That has not borne true.
The alumnae are completely excited in regards to the future. And whilst we undergo a really lengthy, steady transition, to the extent that one can discuss a steady transition, the alumnae are with us, they’re gung-ho. It has been a extremely nice privilege for me to work with such devoted girls.
You talked about the educational restructuring. You halved the variety of majors and made reductions in school. And also you mentioned that was difficult. Was there pushback to that plan whilst you had been implementing it? And do you assume it was the fitting factor to do?
Nicely, typically you do one thing not as a result of it is proper or flawed, however as a result of you need to. And we had been in a state of affairs the place we had no alternative. Both we do that, or we weren’t going to be viable. It is simply not doable to maintain the form of variety of majors and the workers that we’ve got with lower than 200 college students. However you form of financial institution on the truth that you do that with as a lot intelligence as you’ll be able to, with all of the dedication and keenness you have got for the faculty. After which ultimately, because the enrollment grows, we are able to additionally develop the remainder of the staffing. And that is, in reality, what’s occurred.
Subsequent fall, we’ll have, roughly, about barely north of 500 college students coming in. And after that, I believe that we are going to quickly get to 600. Six-hundred might be what Candy Briar has at all times had as enrollment. And we’ll in all probability take a deep pause and breath and ask ourselves, “Now, can we wish to construct yet another dorm or not?”
Why are you leaving the place of president and the place are you going?
I’ve liked being president of Candy Briar Faculty. And we’ve got a really gradual transition going ahead. I shall be right here so long as wanted, relying on the tempo of the seek for the brand new president. And I am actually not fascinated by the place I am going. I am utterly targeted 200% on my job and ensuring that Candy Briar is effectively located.
I believe it’s actually time for me to move the baton to the subsequent chief. Because the prophet says in Ecclesiastes, “To all issues, there’s a season.” And I really feel that this season has come for me to move the good work on to the brand new president.