“There are still demographic pressures to come, and [small college supporters] are going to need to keep up this pressure to sustain a turnaround,” said Michael Horn, who studies higher education at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, a think tank he cofounded.
Sweet Briar, which offers such unique programs as women-only classes in the male-dominated discipline of engineering, enrolled 205 new students in the fall, and while that was the biggest incoming class since 2013, it still leaves total enrollment at 475 toward a goal of 650. Antioch, whose alumni have included Coretta Scott King, “Twilight Zone” creator Rod Serling and the actors Leonard Nimoy and Cliff Robertson, added 41 new students in the fall, a spokeswoman said, bringing its total enrollment to just 133; the college has sold off its nature preserve and radio station.
Without institutions like hers, said Antioch’s Fernandes, “We lose one of the most powerful ways to continue progressive thought and advancing democracy. Maybe that sounds ridiculous, but I believe that’s really true: Small liberal arts colleges like Antioch, Hampshire, Sweet Briar and Mills, they have a commitment to social justice and a commitment to individuals. We’re not just fighting for Antioch College. I believe we’re actually fighting for the future of democracy.”