Our Sustainable Future: Background and Summary

Sweet Briar College has undergone drastic changes since 2017. With board approval, we have reset, broadly and comprehensively, the College’s academic, financial and administrative practices. The purpose of these actions was to make Sweet Briar distinctive among liberal arts institutions, and thereby competitive.

The most notable change was a series of academic resets, consisting of the concise 10-course “Women’s Leadership Core” that replaced the sprawling general education program; and the reduction of academic majors from 42 to 17. Other changes included a new academic calendar and the establishment of competitive financial awards to students for experiential learning.

We also reset the College’s tuition by thirty percent in order to remain viable, since the College’s main competitors are the public flagships in the Commonwealth; and we right-sized the workforce appropriate with the size of student body. At the same time, we made investments in physical infrastructure to improve the institution’s appeal to prospective students (viz. renovations of the equestrian center and dormitories, creation of the turf field, vineyards, apiary and greenhouse.)

There are validations that the College is on the right path. These include its repeated recognition by U. S. News & World Report as one of the nation’s most innovative liberal arts colleges; reaffirmation of its accreditation for the next decade by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on College (SACSCOC); continued improvement in bond ratings; clean audits; balanced budgets, all of which are buoyed by the extraordinary financial support of the alumnae; and finally, a marked uptick in the number of incoming students starting in the fall of 2020. It is worth noting that much of this occurred amid a pandemic that forced a series of disruptions and adjustments in the operation of the College.

This five-year plan (henceforth “the plan”) builds on the afore-mentioned changes. It identifies five distinctive areas that seek to make Sweet Briar a destination college for young women today: (1) an excellent program of liberal arts focusing on women’s leadership; (2) an extraordinary natural setting ideal for promoting a culture of sustainability; (3) a unique engineering program designed for women; (4) a nationally renowned equestrian program—and all of these situated (5) within the larger cultural context of central Virginia, anchored at Sweet Briar, especially in the summers. The plan spells out (co-)curricular steps to deepen the content in each area and infrastructural requirements. It also discusses steps to address the significant problem of deferred maintenance, big and small, and ways to finance them. The plan is replete with a 5-year budget model, and a discussion of capital financing and the next steps for the Priorities Campaign.