Monday, May 16, 2016

Midway University will become co-educational this fall

Midway University's home campus will no longer be limited to women students.

The school's Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday, May 12, "to transition the university to a fully coeducational institution and begin admitting men into its daytime undergraduate programs," the institution said in a press release today.

John Marsden, Ph.D.
"Today is yet another historic moment in the life of an institution that has always transformed itself to remain relevant," President John P. Marsden said in the release. "Our founding mission was to provide young women with access to education at a time when education was mainly available to men. We have fulfilled that mission for 169 years and this decision will ensure that we continue to do so."

In an interview, Marsden acknowledged that going co-educational is probably necessary to maintaining the university's financial viability. "These are challenging times for higher education in general," he said.

The school, Midway's largest employer, took a financial hit a few years ago when its plans for a pharmacy school in Paintsville fell apart. Soon afterward, enrollment declined and it laid off faculty and staff. Its latest biennial report to the state Council on Postsecondary Education, last year, showed its unrestricted endowment at a record $9 million.

"Marsden noted that the decision ultimately centered on ensuring the institution remains viable during challenging times for higher education and is not a statement on the important role Women's Colleges play in education," the release said. "With fall 2015 enrollment of 1,042 students, one-quarter were enrolled in the Women's College, and the residential population was under 200."

"It was time to look at options for our traditional undergraduate program," Marsden said. "We see this as an opportunity to overcome existing challenges we have faced with tight budgets, decreased interest in single-sex education, and a national trend in declining enrollments."

Marsden, who became president after the pharmacy-school debacle, noted, "This is not the first time the institution has transformed itself."

Several years before it became Midway University last year, the school started evening and graduate programs for men and women at a Lexington campus. Earlier, it transformed itself from a junior college to a four-year school granting bachelor's degrees. It began as the Kentucky Female Orphan School in 1847, the year after the state legislature formally chartered the City of Midway.

"Admitting men into our daytime undergraduate programs will allow us to serve a broader audience of traditional college students who will benefit from our programs and the learning environment we have established on campus," Marsden said in the release, which said, "Many media outlets have reported that only 2 percent of high-school women desire a single-sex education."

"We see this change as strengthening our historic mission to educate women by broadening our reach to that 98 percent of young women who would never consider a women's college," said Marsden.

The president said discussions about going co-educational began during discussions about adopting university status. The release said, "The university board and administrative staff discussed this issue at length over many months. They reviewed numerous enrollment trend reports, read national research studies, examined finances, talked with other institutions which moved to coeducation, and deliberated all possible means for the institution's long-term viability prior to making the decision."

"We made this decision after careful thought and thorough discussion," said Board of Trustees Chair Donna Moore Campbell, an alumna of the school. "We believe this is the best and most prudent decision to ensure the viability of the institution so that we continue to honor our original mission to educate women and serve all students, male and female, for years to come."

The University already offers co-educational programs in its evening, online, and graduate programs. This change will only affect the daytime undergraduate program.

Asked if he had received negative reaction to the change, Marsden said, "We made a number of phone calls today. Generally, so far it's been positive. The only negative comments we have heard have more to do with tradition."

University spokeswoman Ellen Gregory said that while some are nostalgic and hate to see it the change, "Most people think, 'O.K., that's a smart move. Why haven't you done this sooner?"

Marsden said in the release, "We cannot continue to preserve something that is unsustainable merely for nostalgic purposes." The release said a recent informal survey "indicated support for this move among students, faculty, and staff."

Marsden told the Midway City Council that the change is not a statement about the worthiness of women-only institutions, "but for us it's to ensure long-term viability of the institution." He said "Some of our alums are disappointed ... but in general we announced it on campus today to a round of applause."

Mayor Grayson Vandegrift told Marsden, "I think you all are doing what you know is best for the university ... and I commend you all on it."

Asked in the interview how Midway can continue to be distinctive, Marsden said, "It is very difficult for all small, private colleges that talk about a beautiful campus, small class sizes [and so on]. We're all offering the same thing. Some of our distinctions include a sterling reputation for our nursing program [and] an equine program that is right on campus and part of a working farm. We also consider our location to be a good one because it connects us to surrounding horse farms. We're in a rural location but not in a remote location. We're not in the middle of nowhere, which is the case with some institutions."

The university said it has begun submitting notifications of the change to CPE and accrediting bodies, and will begin recruiting male athladmitting men as commuter students in its traditional daytime programs immediately for fall 2016. Applications for male students in residence halls will be accepted and considered for spring 2017. "This will allow time for campus conversations with current students on incorporating men into the existing residence halls," the release said. "There is no plan to construct any new residence halls at this time. . . . No additional athletic fields will be added at this time."

Marsden said he hopes the change will bring more donations to the school. "Our alumni giving rate has been low, and potential donors had expressed their concerns that the institution had not yet become co-ed," he said in the release. "We hope to draw support from the community around us and grow our financial donor base with this transition to serve a larger population."

The release said "The university will preserve existing programs that support its historic commitment to serving and empowering women." The Ruth Slack Roach Scholarship "will remain as a legacy program focused on developing leadership skills in women." The annual Midway Reunion "will be dedicated to our Women's College graduates from the Kentucky Female Orphan School, Pinkerton High School, Midway Junior College, Midway College, and Midway University Women's College Class of 2016. This event is held every June with graduates returning to campus for a weekend of celebration and remembrance of the time when the campus was their home."

The university will continue to give the Midway Woman Award to a graduating senior who demonstrates a profound sense of service to others; is an outstanding leader and role model; and is of strong character. The annual Spotlight Awards fund-raising event will still "highlight women who have been leaders in representing women's issues, who have made an impact benefiting women in the state of Kentucky and beyond, and who have been innovators in their fields," the release said. The Lilialyce Akers Leadership Speaker Series "will continue to bring women leaders to campus to speak on topics important to women relating to leadership skills, career growth, diversity and more."

Potential students with questions regarding the admissions process can contact the Office of Admissions at 800-952-4122 or admissions@midway.edu.

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