Sweet Briar College is one of the nation’s Most Innovative Schools, according to the 2019 U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges rankings. Sweet Briar tied for 21st place with Oberlin, Swarthmore, Bowdoin and others in the National Liberal Arts Colleges category. Nominated by higher education leaders around the country, Sweet Briar ranked higher than any other college or university — national, liberal arts or regional — in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
In U.S. News’ annual peer assessment survey this past spring, college presidents, provosts and admissions deans were asked to nominate institutions for “making the most innovative improvements in terms of curriculum, faculty, students, campus life, technology or facilities.” The Most Innovative Schools ranking is based entirely on peer votes and schools had to be nominated by at least seven evaluators to make the list.
“Sweet Briar’s changes to its curriculum and tuition model were strategic: They were based on the College’s existing areas of excellence to set the institution apart, and also to be relevant for 21st-century women’s leadership,” President Meredith Woo said. “Our institutional innovations are intended to prepare women leaders to innovate their own solutions to global problems.”
In Sweet Briar’s case, innovation has been comprehensive and multilayered. In addition to curating an academic curriculum built on its areas of excellence, the College reduced tuition to make the superlative education at Sweet Briar affordable and the true cost more transparent. A sustainable budgetary restructuring positioned the size of the College’s administration to grow alongside student enrollment over the long term.
Announced last year, the College replaced its general education requirements beginning this fall with a simple and efficacious leadership core curriculum that seeks to provide students with the attributes, disciplines and habits of the mind to be leaders for today and tomorrow.
This new core curriculum launched in August with the required class “Design Thinking,” which challenges students to immerse themselves in problem-solving. Creativity is central, with students working in groups to generate radical alternatives to run-of-the mill solutions to everyday problems. This, and other courses, are taught by faculty who are both excellent teachers and scholars who inspire engaged learning for exceptional outcomes.
The College also
- Implemented a new academic calendar (3-12-12-3), including two short sessions to support engaged learning, which support unique opportunities for guest faculty, artists and practitioners — for example, fellows from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts will teach an interdisciplinary foundational arts course in the new core;
- Launched grants for engaged learning — students can apply for up to $2,000 to fund experiential learning opportunities such as research, internships or study abroad; and
- Streamlined programs of study balanced across arts, sciences, humanities and social sciences where Sweet Briar has proven excellence, including in engineering. Sweet Briar is one of only two women’s colleges in the nation with an ABET-accredited engineering program.
All of those changes were designed and implemented by faculty committees working virtually around the clock.
Along with these sweeping academic innovations, the College also revamped its tuition, cutting the sticker price from over $50,000 to $21,000 for fall 2018-2019 tuition and $13,000 for room and board — a price tag competitive with the best flagship state universities, for in-state students, in most areas of the country. The College continues to offer more than 250 scholarships for merit and need-based aid, making it even more affordable.
“These innovations resonated with prospective students and families as demonstrated by the 42 percent increase in new-student enrollment for fall 2018,” said Melissa Farmer Richards, vice president for communications and enrollment management.
Sweet Briar ranked 127th among National Liberal Arts Colleges, moving up seven spots from last year.