SMWC makes coed decision

May 19th, 2015 | SMWC

As Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College celebrates its 175th year, it is undertaking a strategic planning process that outlines its vision and sets a clear direction for the future. Through this discernment process, several opportunities have been identified to both grow and remain a vibrant institution that will provide students with a high-quality Catholic liberal arts education. This multidimensional approach includes online program growth, new academic program development, facilities updates and admitting men to the undergraduate traditional program.

The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to become fully coeducational at its May 1, 2015, meeting. The board has been in intensive deliberations about coeducation for a year. SMWC will begin accepting applications from men immediately as commuter students for the fall of 2015. The College anticipates men will become residential students in the fall of 2016. Currently, the College offers coeducational opportunities in both the Woods Online courses and the graduate programs.

Central to the decision is enrollment. National statistics indicate that less than two percent of college-age women will consider a single gender institution. “We cannot be relevant to all women when 98 percent of women will not consider us. No one doubts the power of the single gender educational experience. However, the number of women who will perceive such as a choice hinders its relevance in today’s world,” said Dottie King, Ph.D., president of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

Across the nation, women’s colleges who have moved to a fully coeducational environment discovered an increase in enrollment of women – the 98 percent who would now consider them. SMWC anticipates a similar trend, which will allow more women and men to experience a Woods education.

In 1960, there were 230 women’s colleges in the United States. Since then, 52 have closed, 22 have merged with other colleges or universities and 39 have become coeducational. And 34 of the approximately 45 remaining women’s colleges admit men to select undergraduate and graduate programs.

“We have reached a defining moment in our 175-year history to enhance excellence amidst changes that are both challenges and opportunities,” added King.

King will appoint an implementation team comprised of alums, faculty, staff, board members and students.  The responsibilities of the team will address academics, athletics, campus culture, facilities, security, student life and ways to advance the legacy of women’s leadership.

King explains that the foundation of academic integrity and leadership are the cornerstone of a Woods education. In the process of expanding the student base, King embraces the principles of the late Jeanne Knoerle, SP ’49, Ph.D., the former president of SMWC, to strategically lead the College into the future.  Knoerle wrote in 2005,

“There are two approaches to educating women for leadership roles: 1) teaching women in a single-sex environment; 2) teaching women and men about women’s roles and modeling for them the value of women’s leadership. The second method is rarely practiced in institutions established by men. It presents a new and important role for colleges founded and sustained by women.”  

President of the National Alumnae Association Claire Thuning-Roberson ’67 noted, “Saint Mother Theodore Guerin’s mission is advanced by the expansion of the undergraduate program to include men, providing the values and transformational experiences both women and men need as collaborators in our culture today.”

SMWC and the Sisters of Providence enjoy a special relationship. Each shares the same foundress, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, and the College is sponsored by the Sisters of Providence.

General Superior, Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Denise Wilkinson, SP ’68, issued a statement of support, which reads in part,  

“…The decision of the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Board of Trustees to expand the College’s mission by including men in the on-campus undergraduate program responds to the changing demographics and educational preferences of ‘this place and time.’

While the decision is a significant change for the undergraduates of the on-campus program, it is also a decision “rooted for tomorrow.” It acknowledges the countless changes in religious, educational and civic arenas happening continuously over the past 175 years of the College’s mission and ministry of education.

The Sisters of Providence General Council supports the decision made by SMWC’s Board of Trustees. Our hearts go out to those who will find this change difficult. Yet, once again, let us listen to these words of Saint Mother Theodore: I now await in peace whatever it may please our Lord to ordain for the future of our institution….”

Read Full Statement >


Historically, men have taken classes at The Woods for decades. In 1984, men were accepted in the graduate programs and in the undergraduate distance program in 2005. Additionally, men have been commuter students in the traditional campus program, with the stipulation that they were not eligible to earn an undergraduate degree.

Taking this step is a means to educate more women and men than the College has seen in recent years. To attract new students, the College will leverage its strengths – academic integrity, leadership development, intimate learning environment and spiritual growth opportunities.