Cash-strapped Mills College in Oakland, California has opted to lay off staff rather than admit male undergrads. Mills College is only one of 36 all-women’s colleges in the United States and it is once again deep in debt.
At a time when other all-women’s colleges are accepting men on campus to strengthen finances, Mills College isn’t. This has resulted in a round of layoffs for tenured professors—five to be exact.
Elizabeth Hillman, president of Mills College, said that instead of admitting male undergrads to increase admission numbers and raise money, the school trustees voted to fire five tenured professors and several untenured faculty members and staff. The total number of layoffs was expected to hit 30 to 35 faculty and staff.
“It’s a volatile environment in higher ed,” said Hillman. “All decisions like this are very difficult but this lets Mills double down on its strengths, focus on academic excellence, on applied learning and global understanding.”
The school said it doesn’t expect to announce any further terminations. In addition to the five pink slips, the school’s bottom line will be strengthened with some faculty members looking at retirement options.
The terminations are looked upon differently depending on whether you’re a student or professor. In June, a professor conducted a survey to gauge support for alternatives to layoffs. Of the 65 faculty members surveyed, all of whom probably have bills to pay, the vast majority (71%) said they supported admitting undergraduates “of any gender.”
On the other hand, Hillman said. “I’ve been listening to our students all year—they certainly have not suggested to me that they would like us to change our undergraduate admissions policy.”
Back in 1990, Mills College was facing similar financial woes. The school’s trustees elected to make the school co-ed. Students were having none of it. Hundreds occupied the campus for 13 days until school trustees reversed their decision.
Fast forward to 2017, and the board wasn’t looking to cause that kind of trouble again.
In May, Mills College announced a financial emergency, noting its annual operating deficit had grown to more than $9.0 million, a huge sum when you consider its annual operating budget for next year is $57.0 million.
In June, Mills College announced a major restructuring effort, one that included the termination of staff and redistribution of job duties. The school also said it would implement a 90-day hiring freeze on all staff positions that do not affect student retention, enrollment, and revenue generation.
The school hopes to plug its $9.0-million budget hole within three years.
According to the school’s projections, the Financial Stability Plan will reduce the deficit for fiscal 2018 to under $5.0 million; the deficit for fiscal year 2019 will fall to under $2.0 million. The budget is projected to be balanced in fiscal 2020.
It’ll take more than cutting costs to keep the school open. Enrollment has been falling for years. Since 2013, enrollment at Mills College has tumbled 26% to 740 students from 997.
Still, Hillman remains optimistic. “We have fewer students than we used to, but Mills has long faced ups and downs.”
Not everyone at Mills College is as certain as Hillman that an all-women’s campus is the way forward.
Kathryn Reiss, an English professor and author of young-adult fiction, said, “Mills has served a great purpose by being a women’s college all these years. But the attraction of a women’s college is just not there.”
Roger Sparks, the economics professor who conducted the June survey, said he thinks it’s time to “go open gender.”
For many all-women’s schools, it’s either admit male undergrads or go under. On June 14, the University of St. Joseph in Connecticut voted to admit men.
“Mills College Board of Trustees Approves Revised Financial Stabilization Plan,” Mills College, June 27, 2017.
“Mills College Financial Stabilization Plan,” Mills College, June 26, 2016.
“Mills College opts for layoffs over admitting male undergrads,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 11, 2017.
“Round Of Layoffs Coming To Oakland’s Mills College,” 5KPIX, July 12, 2017.
“University of Saint Joseph Opens Full-Time Undergraduate Programs To Men,” University of Saint Joseph Connecticut, June 14, 2017.