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House Committee Advances Appropriations Bill to Help America’s Women’s Colleges

The House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LHHS) passed its annual appropriations bill on July 15, 2021. With the leadership of Los Angeles Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, report language was included to bolster women’s colleges in America. This is the first time that women’s colleges have been noted in such a way in proposed Federal legislation. Women’s colleges and universities have always faced state and federal underfunding, despite educating historically underserved populations. Eighty percent of students at women’s colleges receive financial aid, forty-eight percent are eligible for Pell grants, and nearly half are students of color.

The Committee recognized the long-time role that the nation's women's colleges and universities play in advancing postsecondary diversity and inclusion for underserved populations while creating unique educational opportunities to empower women. They stated its concern with the financial stability and institutional well-being of women’s colleges, especially post-COVID-19. Importantly, the Committee directed the Department of Education to detail challenges women’s colleges and universities face and recommend how federal resources may be allocated to ensure their resilience.

Eva Diaz, communications and project manager for Women’s College Coalition, said, “This is a major first step toward obtaining a comprehensive and dedicated federal funding stream for women's colleges and universities - one that could be annual and perhaps have a long-lasting designation in a similar way as minority serving institutions. This legislative language not only puts every possibility of federal relief on the table for consideration within the next budget cycle, but also puts forth the ‘macro’ issue of the need for the government to play a role in supporting women's colleges given their unique role within American higher education.”

Almost two hundred years after Harvard University granted the first baccalaureate degrees to men in this country, a visionary group of Macon citizens recognized the need for an institution to offer the same privilege to women. Wesleyan College (founded in 1836 as The Georgia Female College) was the first college in the world chartered to grant baccalaureate degrees to women, with an expressed aim of granting the “power to confer all such honors, degrees, and licenses as are usually conferred in colleges or universities.” As recently as fifty years ago, 230 women’s colleges and universities thrived across the United States; today, fewer than 40 remain. Wesleyan has been educating women for 185 years. With a reputation for developing strong, intelligent, women who become leaders in today’s society, Wesleyan is committed to offering women an academically challenging and relevant, customized education.

Wesleyan President Vivia Fowler said, "Those who know Wesleyan well, or who know of other women's colleges, know what treasures they are. I am hopeful that this legislation is successful in order to help sustain this unique educational opportunity for future students."

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