Two 100-year-old institutions led by women enjoy surge in enrollment

Loyola New Orleans and Sweet Briar are savoring student renaissance.
By: | August 25, 2021

One is located in the heart of New Orleans. The other is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. What do these institutions of higher education have in common?

Tania Tetlow

Meredith Woo

They’re small and private. They believe in educating the whole student—“mind, body and spirit.” They’re led by women. And they’re producing eye-popping enrollment figures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Loyola University New Orleans is welcoming in the largest class in its 113-year history this fall, while Sweet Briar College has the most incoming new, first-time students since 2013.

For Loyola, the early data shows a 25% enrollment rise over 2020-21, even with stronger academic requirements. The university was expecting a 22% burst, but even that number surprised officials. While the majority of students come from within the state of Louisiana (43%), the university is set to welcome students from 44 states and 20 countries.

“For more than 100 years, Loyola has served as an engine of opportunity, providing academic excellence to generations of families from New Orleans and across the country,” said President Tania Tetlow, who has been leading the university since 2018 and is the first-ever woman to hold that position. “Loyola attracts students who are extremely bright and creative, drawn to the innovation of New Orleans and to a diverse campus that reflects America. We are especially proud that a third of our students are the first in their family to go to college, just like so many of our remarkably successful alumni.”

In addition, the pool is remarkably diverse—54% are students of color, including 20% Hispanic, 19% Black and 12% mixed-race. More than 40% of those will have Pell Grants. Loyola credits its permanent test-blind policy and its personal touch during the admissions process for the boost.

“As the world changes around us, our individualized approach proves to be more effective than ever,” said Nathan Ament, Chief Enrollment Officer. “We see the test scores as barriers to a college education and we are looking to provide opportunities for more students. The response from students has been overwhelming and it’s exciting to break these records for applications, enrollment and diversity.”

Sweet Briar College has enjoyed a remarkable turnaround and renewed success under President Meredith Woo, a former Dean at the University of Virginia, author and transformational higher education leader in several countries.

Sweet Briar College Class of 2025

Sweet Briar’s most recent enrollment numbers show 354 students, but this incoming class and a group of transfer students are set to push that to 475. That includes 205 new students. Like Loyola, students are coming from all across the U.S. and the world to attend this serene but bold all-women’s college. Sweet Briar’s new class will represent 41 states and 17 nations, with students enrolling from as far away as Rwanda, Nepal and Bangladesh.

“Around the world, we’re seeing a new interest in and an increasing demand for women’s equality; a real hunger for women’s leadership,” Woo said. “Sweet Briar is ready to meet this need. It’s becoming the destination college for women who want to learn how to lead the world into a more just, inclusive and sustainable future.”

Sweet Briar credits its growth to a 32% reduction in tuition and a “bold rethinking of the liberal arts model.” Students receive both an innovative foundation in values, skills, knowledge and perspectives essential for modern leadership, with a lean toward sustainability and agricultural developments. It has also boosted its athletics presence by adding softball to an already successful core of equestrian and tennis programs.