Sweet Briar College's pending closure stuns local teen
Posted March 16, 2015
Coats, N.C. — "It's a distinct pleasure to inform you of your acceptance to Sweet Briar College," the letter to Harnett County high school student Amelia Currin read.
It arrived the week before Thanksgiving. The small, private women's college in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains had welcomed her into the fold.
"I was so excited," Currin recalled. "I actually cried a little."
It was her dream school with its strong equestrian program and solid academics.
But then, the private all-women's college announced that the Class of 2015 would be the final graduating class at the 114-year-old school.
"I found out on Facebook," Currin said.
The post came in early March that there would be no freshman class.
The news was enough to make Currin sick. Not only was she accepted, but she also had an $80,000 student scholarship.
"At first, I was in shock, and then I was terrified," Currin said. "I never considered other schools, so I didn't apply anywhere else."
Like all small, all-female liberal arts colleges, Sweet Briar has been struggling financially, though staff and alumnae say they had no clue it was this dire.
Enrollment dropped from 760 to 700 this year, and the school slashed its tuition by 60 percent to entice more students.
"I thought it was a bad episode of 'The Twilight Zone,'" Currin's father, Derek Currin said.
He wishes Sweet Briar had been more open about its finances. Maybe then, he said, the community could have done something to save it.
He appreciates the school's commitment to tradition.
"But I don't think you can sit on tradition," Derek Currin said. "You really have to be innovative and change with the times, and I believe that is where Sweet Briar was so attached."
Sweet Briar is helping students and new enrollees transfer to other schools.
The college's president, President James F. Jones Jr., says a wide spectrum of options was explored to keep Sweet Briar open, but none worked out.
Despite a $94 million endowment, he says, the closure is unavoidable.
"I just want to ask them why," Amelia Currin said. "Why would they get so many girls' hopes up when they knew they couldn't support what they were promoting?"
She now plans to enroll in a similar school in Virginia.
But no acceptance letter could ever be as sweet as the one that arrived on that November day.