Raleigh, N.C. — After more than a century of educating only women, Peace College will admit men as full-time students next year, officials announced Thursday.
The four-year college near downtown Raleigh also will change its name to William Peace University.
The moves culminate a tumultuous year since Debra Townsley took over as the school's 10th president. She opened up night and online classes to men early this year, cut staff and reorganized academic programs.
Many of the moves were designed to shore up the school's finances and make it more attractive to students, officials said.
Townsley said only 2 percent of female high school seniors consider attending women's college, so opening Peace up to men will broaden its market.
Some single-gender classes will continue to be offered once male students arrive on campus in 2012-13, said Beth Cherry, a Peace alumna and vice chairwoman of the Board of Trustees. The classes will be in disciplines where research shows that women and men learn differently and that each benefit from a single-gender classroom, she said.
“The needs of our students are always changing, and Peace is changing with them,” Cherry said.
Details such as reorganizing residence halls to accommodate men still have to be worked out, officials said.
Peace was founded in 1857 by Raleigh's First Presbyterian Church. William Peace, a local businessman and church elder, provided $10,000 and eight acres of land for the school. It transitioned away from elementary school education in the early 1900s to focus on high school and college courses for women.
The high school program ended in the 1970s, and the school shifted from a two-year to a four-year college in the mid-1990s.
Hope Williams, president of the North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities organization, commended Peace for the radical shift.
"These are challenging times for all of higher education, and Peace has once again chosen the path of moving forward to embrace the future with fresh ideas and new ways to meet the needs of students," Williams said.
Students held a peaceful protest on campus in response to the announcement Thursday night. Members of the choir sang the school's alma mater
In reaction to the news, Meredith College President Jo Allen said her institution would remain women's only.
"In the 21st century, the role of women in business, non-profits, health care, schools and communities and families remains not only relevant but imperative. Meredith proudly educates women to lead in these critical regional, national and global contexts. We will continue to recruit strong women who want a high quality undergraduate women’s education," Allen said in a statement.