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May 02, 2014 03:56 PM EDT

Chatham University To Admit Male Undergrads In 2015

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One of the oldest women's colleges in the United States is going coed beginning in 2015, the Pittsburgh Business Times reported.

Chatham University's Board of Trustees voted Thursday in approval of a resolution that would admit men into its undergraduate programs for the first time in the school's 145-year history. The move was made "to position the university so it could avoid [financial] crises in the future," the Pittsburgh Business Times reported.

"This decision allows Chatham University to address the enrollment challenges facing the undergraduate women's college by opening Chatham's high quality undergraduate education to a larger population of potential women and men while also reorganizing to take advantage of Chatham's strengths in key academic areas," Jennifer Potter, Class of '66 and chair of Chatham's Board of Trustees, said in a statement. "By acting now, we put in place a plan that will ensure the continued evolution, growth and financial strength of the University."

School officials announced in February they were considering opening its undergraduate programs to men primarily out of concern about "having enough undergraduates in an era in which most female college applicants don't want a women's college," Insider Higher Ed reported. Since then they have received opposition from students and alumnae, but President Esther Barazzone maintains that the opposed group was the vocal minority.

Barrazone said the university received a petition Thursday signed by 700 alumnae, out of a population of 6,000 alumni. And of current students, 50 percent of approximately 500 undergraduate students completed a survey in which 45 percent said they were not in favor of going coed, the Pittsburgh Business Times reported.

She added that of the graduate and undergraduate faculty, about 80 percent were in favor of the shift.

In March, Barrazone said that although the decision to go coed was an unfavorable one, it was necessary.

"I will not ... let this whole institution go down because of insisting on sticking to one root for the overarching goal, which believes in women," Barrazzone said.

Barazzone also said the potential move was not a retreat from the school's woman-centered mission, and would represent an opportunity to strengthen the university as a whole and avoid faculty layoffs.

Chatham University, like many women's colleges, has coeducational graduate programs, but its undergraduate programs have remained single-sex.

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