WESTON — Regis College is currently the only Catholic women’s college in Massachusetts, but all that is about to change.
In a move that some are calling regrettable but necessary, the Regis College board of trustees voted on Aug. 31 to admit men to the undergraduate program beginning in the fall of 2007.
The decision comes after years of declining enrollment and financial troubles.
According to Dr. Mary Jane England, president of Regis College, the goal is to expand enrollment of the undergraduate program to 1,000 students by the year 2010. Currently only 640 undergraduate women attend Regis.
“We want to grow,” she stressed. “We want to get to over 1,000 undergraduate students.”
But, continued England, today many young women are just not interested in attending an all-women’s school. She cited a study conducted by the American Council on Education, which concluded that although more females attend college than males, less than 3 percent of females are interested in attending a single-gender school. England asserted that by opening its doors to undergraduate men, Regis College would also better serve women.
Paula Harbecke, vice-president of academic affairs agreed with that assessment.
“The Regis College board’s decision will ultimately allow us to educate more young women,” she said.
“Today, after 80 years as a women-only residential college, admitting undergraduate men to the incoming class in the fall of 2007 addresses the reality of the higher education marketplace because it broadens the pool of applicants interested in attending Regis College,” she said.
In fact, men are already a common sight on the Regis campus. Both the colleges’ graduate and continuing education programs have long admitted men. Moreover, since 2004 Regis College has leased its Domitilla Hall dormitory to the Art Institute of Boston, where both young men and young women reside. That lease is set to expire at the end of this school year, and the building will most likely become an all-male dormitory for Regis, school officials say.
According to England, the decision to admit men has been largely welcomed by the students and faculty at Regis College. The alumnae too have been largely supportive, she added, although some have voiced concerns that Regis College may lose a key part of its identity.
Susan Tammaro, associate professor of psychology at Regis College, voiced great optimism for the future of Regis College. “I think it’s great news. The faculty has been asking for this for a while,” Tammaro said.
“It is the best way to serve today’s young women. It’s a shift, certainly, but it’s a shift well within the vision of our school,” she added.
Student reactions have been more mixed, according to Marissa Gondola, a Regis senior. She noted that some students were unhappy with the change, although most have reluctantly agreed that admitting men is perhaps the only way to save the school.
“It was pretty much that or have the school shut down because of the financial situation,” Gondola said.
“Regis will definitely lose some of what makes it Regis,” she sighed, adding that the campus will now have to “re-group, add sports teams,” alter some traditions aimed at female camaraderie, but “we just have to go with the times.”
According to England, admitting men is only one aspect of the school’s growth strategy. The board also voted to create two separate schools within the college — a school of nursing and a school of liberal arts, and to expand its professional graduate programs to serve the needs of the growing health care industry.
“Obviously, our strategic direction is broader than going co-ed and promoting growth,” said trustee Ellen O’Connor, a Regis alumna. “By creating two schools in one and expanding our graduate programs, Regis College will heighten its ability to address the societal shift from the white collar to the so-called white-coat economy of Greater Boston’s medical, bio-tech and health care industries.”
According to England, “It is the combination of these initiatives that makes this strategic repositioning visionary for Regis.”
“With this strategic design,” she continued, “we follow the courageous historical example of our founders, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, by setting a course that is both dynamic and comprehensive, well-researched and responsive to the needs of our time, rooted in our heritage of leadership and service to the neighbor and aware of our particular talents. We are excited by the board’s vote to embrace this strategy, and we look forward to taking the next steps.”