Women's Colleges Boost "Social Good" — But Not At TulaneS

A judge has ruled that Newcomb, Tulane University's women's college, can stay closed — which is especially sad since the Washington Monthly says women's colleges contribute disproportionately to the "social good."

Tulane closed Newcomb College as a cost-cutting measure after Hurricane Katrina, but the great-great-great niece of its founder Josephine Louis Newcomb sued. She argued that closing the college — which was a model for other women's coordinate colleges like Barnard — violated Josephine Newcomb's will. But a judge decided that the will "contains no enforceable conditional obligation to support the plaintiff's claim" — thus, the college can stay closed.

The news came just as the Washington Monthly released its unconventional college rankings. These rankings aim to convey "what colleges are doing for the country," measured by "social mobility, research, and service." The magazine's editors explain,

In our eyes, America's best colleges are those that work hardest to help economically disadvantaged students earn the credentials that the job market demands. They're the institutions that contribute new scientific discoveries and highly trained PhDs. They're the colleges that emphasize the obligations students have to serve their communities and the nation at large.

As it turns out, women's colleges "play an outsized role in contributing to the public good." Though only about fifty still exist, four of them made the Washington Monthly's top 10 liberal arts colleges. This should be no surprise, since according to Jessica Calefati of US News & World Report (source of those other college rankings), women's colleges "are among the country's more ethnically and socioeconomically diverse liberal arts colleges, offering generous financial aid packages." Calefati adds,

Just as women's colleges originally were founded because women couldn't go to college elsewhere, many of today's women's colleges are surviving-and thriving-by educating specific populations of women who are still underserved.

But Calefati also notes that more and more women's colleges are closing or going coed. Wells College in Aurora, NY began admitting men in 2005, and some students saw a difference immediately. "Women are waking up early to put on makeup, and that's odd," said then-senior Sarah Alexander. The status of women's colleges as champions of the underrepresented and promoters of diversity may be under threat.

The Washington Monthly ranks Tulane 70th out of 258 national universities. In a blog post on the rankings, the Times's Tamar Lewin asks,

What would the world be like if college presidents worked as hard to improve their Washington Monthly rankings as they now do to keep up their U.S. News ranking?

Guess Tulane isn't itching to find out.

Judge Rules In Tulane's Favor; Women's College To Stay Closed [US News & World Report]
Rating Colleges By Their Contribution To The Social Good [NYT]
Introduction: A Different Kind of College Ranking [Washington Monthly]