Sweet Briar College raises more than $10 million and celebrates successful recruiting year — 12 months after near closure

Posted on July 11, 2016 by Jennifer McManamay

One year after Sweet Briar’s new president Phillip Stone and new board took over Sweet Briar’s governance, the College released strong budget, fundraising and enrollment numbers for the 2016 fiscal year.

The College exceeded its fundraising goal of $10 million, a particularly ambitious target given the Saving Sweet Briar campaign of last year that raised more than $12 million to cover the College’s operating costs. Sweet Briar raised $10.25 million in just 10 months as part of the Next is Now initiative. The total is five times as much as the College previously raised on an annual basis in unrestricted revenue.

The $10 million is needed to cover millions of dollars in costs associated with the attempted closure of the College, including severance payments and lost tuition.

After receiving a record number of student applications for the fall of 2016, the number of incoming students this fall stands at 175. These students include first-year, transfer and graduate students, as well as those who are returning to Sweet Briar after transferring elsewhere as a result of the closure announcement. Through a combination of incoming students and those continuing from last year, the College expects to exceed 325 on-campus students for the 2016-2017 academic year.

Students will come to the College from 31 states and five countries, including China, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Mongolia and Peru.

“2016 was a rebuilding year,” Stone said. “We took over a mostly shuttered institution and could not start recruiting a new class until September of 2015, six months later than other institutions. The fact that we will have a student body of this size in such a short time is one more Sweet Briar miracle.”

Stone noted that the College came in $2 million under budget in FY2016 and, for the first time in its history, did not withdraw a penny from its endowment.

“We are proud that the College spent less than it budgeted,” Stone said. “The endowment was not touched. That is simply amazing when you consider we had a student body of only 40 percent of its previous size, were required by the settlement agreement to pay almost $5 million of severance to faculty and staff, and incurred more than $30 million of other costs due to the attempts to close.”

When Stone took over the Sweet Briar presidency last July, most faculty and staff had been terminated and all students had transferred to other colleges. The riding and study abroad programs had also been transferred. All athletic contests had been canceled; memberships in athletic associations and professional consortia had been surrendered. Even the food service was gone.

In six weeks, a new senior team was put in place, transferred programs were brought back to the College, a new food service was retained, faculty and staff were reemployed, and classes began on schedule. In addition to fielding every athletic team, two new sports were added for the coming year.

The Alumnae Alliance was created to mobilize alumnae around the world to help build sustainability for the College.

Recruitment for the fall of 2017 is well underway.

Stone concluded, “We learned so much this year. But above all, we learned that small liberal arts institutions must reject fatalism and discover creative, innovative ways for the entire campus community to be involved in nurturing their college. Sweet Briar is well positioned for a bright future.”