Dear Esther – Part 8

Dear Esther,

You repeatedly stated at the town hall meetings that you did not want to talk about detailed data and instead preferred to speak about the trends. Using our World Ready skills in analysis, we did some forecasting for you, a data set that seems to be missing from previous communications from the administration, so we can speak about the trends at large, as you’ve requested.


Enrollment isn’t going to get any easier, regardless of who you’re trying to recruit.

First, we know that the overall number of children in the United States will decline over the next fifteen years. As the Chronicle of Higher Education puts it, for every 100 18-year-olds nationally, there are only 95 4-year-olds[1]. Figure 1 shows children who are nearly ready for higher education (1 or 2 years away from college) to children currently in elementary (13 or 14 years away from college). To read the graphs below, the line starts with children who are very close to starting college all the way through children who are just starting kindergarten and will be ready for college in 14-15 years.

Figure 1 (Data from The Chronicle of Higher Education[2])


A declining number of potential students means that all colleges, not just Chatham, are going to have to be particularly mindful of their target populations.

However, examining the total college-ready population doesn’t tell the whole story. Diving into the data and stratifying it by race alone provides a potentially more interesting trend to examine. As we can see in the series of charts below, the number of white children are declining while most other race groups hold constant or have slight growth.

Let us first look in Allegheny County, PA [3]. Within 15 years, the white population will decline while most of the others are projected to have modest growth.


When we step back and look at the 200-mile radius around Chatham [3], the picture doesn’t change much (even with normalized data). We still see declining numbers for white students.


Second, we know that Chatham predominantly recruits white women. Figure 4 illustrates actual first-year enrollments from 2001 to 2009 [4]. As you can see, enrollment of non-white women does not even approach that of white women.

chatham actual 2

While Chatham talks an excellent game about diversity and inclusion, true racial diversity is hard to find on Chatham’s campus. As noted in The Chronicle of Higher Education, small private institutions with an enrollment that is almost entirely white will “need to diversify in order to maintain enrollment.[1]”

Based on enrollment trends, the inclusion of men isn’t likely to be the panacea it has been made out to be during our discussions. Males are less interested in attending college[2] than females. And as this Chronicle of Higher Education article states, “[f]emale students across all racial and ethnic groups graduated at higher rates than did their male counterparts…” If the goal is not just to get students onto campus, but to retain them through completion of their degree (and then continuation into Chatham’s grad program if appropriate), focusing on bringing more men in will not necessarily do the trick.


Opening the undergraduate gates to men will be a short-sighted effort at stemming the enrollment decline over the next 15 years and create a missed opportunity for a more coherent, well-planned marketing and recruiting strategy to be developed and implemented.

As we previously discussed, the current strategy of the University appears to be focused on the Graduate and Sustainability schools while Chatham College for Women is left as an afterthought. If Chatham is an educational institution that must be supported equally by its three parts, then a misguided attempt at increasing enrollment in any one of those parts could be disastrous. You maintain that the misguided attempt means remaining a single-sex undergraduate institution. We argue that the mistake is putting all of your faith on male students.

From the numbers above, you can see that a more coherent Chatham strategy for dealing with the impending downturn in the college-ready population could be, and should be, increasing diversity among the women it enrolls. Specific efforts to enroll currently under-represented populations of women of color could lead to a significant increase in the overall undergraduate population while not abandoning the mission set forth by the Reverend William Trimble Beatty to provide “women with an education comparable to… ‘colleges of the first class.’”


A delay of the Board of Trustees Vote.

Given the declining pool of white women over the next fifteen years as prospective students at CCW, we believe the co-ed vote should be delayed by at least a year. In that time, we ask you and the administration to provide us with the following:

  • A full explanation of current recruitment strategies, including how students are targeted, and what process and tools are used for following up with interested students.
  • Any details provided to the Board of Trustees in regards to how the college would recruit men and how many men the undergraduate college could expect to bring in over the next five years if the co-ed proposal is adopted.
  • A detailed recruitment strategy, regardless of the co-ed decision, that will focus specifically on increasing the enrollment of women of color.

You have asked for our feedback, Esther, but are you and the Board really listening? If so, you will take this letter to heart and act upon our requests.


The Save Chatham Movement



[2] (90% of high school males say they want to attend college compared to female’s 96%.)




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