Notre Dame University of Maryland (NDUM) announced its decision to become a coeducational institution beginning in the fall of 2023. The announcement marks a historic shift for the college—founded in 1895, NDUM was the first Catholic university to offer four-year degrees to women, making the institution a pillar of single-gender, liberal arts education for over a century. While the college has extended certain course offerings to men since 1975, the fall of 2023 will mark the first time in NDMU’s history that the college’s undergraduate degree programs will be open to male students. The change is emblematic of the evolving landscape of college admissions in small liberal arts colleges—particularly private women’s colleges—which have seen declines in enrollment in recent years.
Expounding upon their unanimous decision to admit men into their undergraduate program, the Board of Trustees cited several key considerations, including declining enrollment in womens’ colleges across the nation and the increasing disparity between the enrollment rates of men and women. The pandemic has only increased a trend which has been slowly building for decades, as enrollment in all-women’s colleges has dropped below 2%, and the number of all-women colleges in the U.S. has fallen from 230 to 46 in the last 50 years. In the face of these hardships, women’s colleges have been pressed to adapt or shutter their doors. While renowned all-women’s colleges such as Wellesley and Bryn Mawr have been buoyed by high caliber reputations and large endowments, smaller and lesser-known colleges such as MacMurray College and Judson College have closed their doors. Others such as Salem College and Sweet Briar College narrowly avoided closure by tailoring course offerings to the fields of science and technology, moving away from the traditional breadth of liberal arts curricula.
NDMU is not the only all-women’s college to combat enrollment declines and financial pressures by opening its doors to men. Wilson College in Pennsylvania became a coeducational institution in 2013 after 144 years of single-gender enrollment, and Mills College merged with Northeastern in 2021, at which time it also became coeducational.
Though the change has been met with some hostility from parts of the college’s student body and alumni base, the Board’s statement reiterated its commitment to NDMU’s mission. Chair Patricia McLaughlin emphasized this commitment in the university’s official announcement, stating that “NDMU will continue to educate women and men together to make a difference in the world.”