Rosemont College is the latest in the growing list of local women’s institutions to go coed. The reason? Survival.
Photos by Jared Castaldi
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Now that the hype has died down, Sharon Latchaw Hirsh might breathe a sigh of relief—if someone in her position can ever really do such a thing. And yet, as the 13th president of Rosemont College, Hirsh remains keenly aware that the biggest change in the institution’s 88-year history has occurred on her watch. This past fall, the Catholic school welcomed its first undergraduate men to campus.
A 1970 Rosemont graduate, Hirsh knew the change was crucial if her school was to move forward. It has significantly increased enrollment by adding male students to the mix, not to mention women who previously would’ve frowned upon a same-sex learning environment. The result? The largest freshman class in 40 years arrived on Rosemont’s lushly wooded campus in late August. “We’ve turned such a corner,” says Hirsh.
The 177 freshmen enrolled for 2009-10 comprise almost half the full-time undergraduate student body of 419. Sixty-one are male—34 percent of the class. Not a bad first-year percentage when you consider that, nationwide, men account for about 43 percent of full-time undergraduate enrollment. Among the older students, just eight are male.
Rosemont saw a 57-percent increase in applications for the fall of 2009. Perhaps even more telling, no students left—or withdrew their deposits—after the college announced its intention to go coed.
A freshman from Northeast Philadelphia, Rus Slawter was also accepted at West Chester and Bloomsburg universities, but he decided on Rosemont for reasons shared by many of its first-year men. As a basketball player, he stands a good chance of playing all four years for Rosemont’s new team. An eight-to-one student-to-faculty ratio and an average class size of 12 students swayed his decision. And it didn’t hurt that Rosemont had the business classes he was looking for.
Helping to tip the scale for many students, male or female: the sheer beauty of a 56-acre campus tucked away in the heart of the Main Line along Montgomery Avenue. And when it comes to his studies,being in the minority has compelled Slawter to step up his game a bit. “I feel like I pay attention a lot more,” he says.
Slawter’s teammate, Greg Gardner, is a junior business major from Sharon Hill who transferred from the two-year Manor College in Jenkintown. As a resident assistant, he helps oversee 52 of the men living on campus. So far, dorm issues are pretty typical: too much noise and not enough attention to cleaning up trash, he says.
But while freshmen and transfers are attending the only Rosemont they’ve ever known, it’s a bit of an adjustment for returning female students. Gardner freely acknowledges he’s had a few disapproving looks—and as one of a handful of men in his class, he could easily feel outnumbered.
“But I don’t look at it that way,” he says. “There’s a sense of community.”