Dear fellow Chatham alumni,
Challenging times. Two very simple words but so very complicated. I know that I am experiencing huge emotions right now, sorrow, sadness, anxiety, and concern. I am sure that many of you are sharing some of these feelings and more.
What I can tell you is that Chatham University with it’s 11,000 plus alumni is strong. Our graduate programs continue to have wait lists in the areas of health sciences. The Falk School of Sustainability, set to have its first undergraduates admitted in the fall of 2014 is groundbreaking and can only strengthen the whole.
For my fellow 6,600 plus alumna of the Pennsylvania College for Women (PCW) and Chatham College for Women (CCW), the picture is not one of strength, but more of challenges. We need to make changes. The model that was begun 145 years ago under different times is not realistic for today’s market in undergraduate education.
Currently, I serve as President of the Chatham University Alumni Association. Our purpose is "…to foster loyalty among graduates to ensure the perpetual growth of Chatham University’s programs, traditions, and financial well-being."
Many of you are asking if the Alumni Association Board is taking a position on the Board of Trustees Resolution. At this time, we are not. We urge you to take the same steps as we are doing. The steps are basic, but necessary.
#1. Educate yourself on what is happening. Ask questions about how we got here and what are the options. Easiest place to "ask" is the email address of ChathamFeedback@Chatham.edu. A list of questions will be compiled and answers supplied.
#2. Use the University’s electronic media options that have been put in place to learn more and be part of the process. Use the website, www.chatham.edu/ChathamFeedback as well as the email address noted above. Get your questions, comments and concerns onto the official record.
#3. Urge your Chatham classmates and friends to make sure that their emails are in the Alumni Relations database. The quickest way is to email email@example.com. For those of you that have asked not to be contacted by Chatham previously, the staff will ask you for verification. Our goal is not to offend, but to inform.
#4. During March there will be a series of Town Hall type meetings on campus, online and in select locations. Plan on attending. If you can’t get to the location and it is available online, make the time to be a part of it and watch.
To be honest, this is not a simple matter of asking the alumnae to raise a specific amount of money and it is fixed. Chatham College for Women has struggled to get qualified students in our classes. We reached a headcount peak of about 725 students in 2008 and like every other institution of higher education; the economic downturn of 2008 has impacted enrollments. We are currently hovering around a headcount of 568 students. A loss of over 150 students in six years. That’s a tough loss for an institution of our size.
#5. Marketing to 18 year-old high school girls. Take a moment and reach out to any young high school women you may know. Ask them if they would consider a women’s college option? I know as I have spoken to many young women, it is not the easy choice. At an age when peer pressure is toughest, you are asking them to choose against what all their friends are doing. Some of us are strong enough and others may not see the appeal.
Our fall 2013 First Years (formerly known as Freshman) is under 100 students. That simply is not enough. Our students deserve a competitive, challenging classroom environment where they can learn not only from world-class professors, but be challenged by their peers.
#6. Educate yourself as to the challenges facing higher education in general today. Fewer high school students. High college debt. You don’t have to look very far. These topics have been covered extensively in publications from the NY Times to Forbes, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Huffington Post, Daily Finance, Bloomberg Report and the Chronicle of Higher Education, just to name a few.
#7. Where have all the Women’s Colleges gone? Fifty years ago, women’s colleges numbered over 300. Today, it is closer to fifty. The Women’s College Coalition (www.womenscolleges.org), which is an organization where you self-select that you are a women’s college has several good reports. See who is around and what type of programs they are offering. Pennsylvania has five, which include Bryn Mawr, Carlow, Cedar Crest, Chatham and Moore College of Art & Design. Pennsylvania is also home to several who have transitioned into co-educational institutions in the last several years, including: Chestnut Hill and Wilson.
#8. Look at the group of women’s colleges that are now co-educational. How have they grown? What is their enrollment? I know that of the five women’s colleges I looked at when I selected Chatham over 30 years ago, they are all now co-ed. My peer group was Goucher, Hood, Wells and Cazenovia. All co-ed.
Many of you are writing very eloquent letters pleading to keep Chatham College for Women as it is today. I have to admit as a member of the Board of Trustees, President of the Chatham University Alumni Association, a contributor of both time and money to this institution and a business owner, I can’t support that option. There must be change. We must make our undergraduate program healthy.
If you have a viable "Plan B" that offers an option that would ensure our health and not lead to co-education, I would be happy to hear it. We have explored many options to ensure the health not only of the University but the integrity of undergraduate education.
In closing, I urge you to be part of the process. Don’t shut us out, help us succeed so that Chatham University and all of its programs are healthy in the future.
I will continue to try to keep you up to date on what is happening through communications such as this.
Should you have any questions, comments or concerns that you would like to ask or share, please feel free to do so. My personal email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gail Ruszczyk Emery, class of 1984
President, Chatham University Alumni Association