An imploding Virginia college may be sitting on the very thing that could save it


Sweet Briar College Campus

Courtesy of Aaron Mahler

Sweet Briar College's campus.

Sweet Briar College may be ignoring a major asset that could be used to save the school from closing - its campus.


On Monday, a local Virginia county attorney filed a lawsuit against Sweet Briar on behalf of the state that could prevent the college from closing following the end of the current semester, as administrators had announced last month.

As part of the exhibits to support the Commonwealth's lawsuit, Amherst County Attorney Ellen Bowyer presented statements from two higher education experts, John W. Gibb and Gen. Charles C. Krulak, who both pointed out how Sweet Briar could use its own campus to save itself.

Even though 27 acres of Sweet Briar's campus is a historic district, the remaining thousands of acres are "of extraordinary value as a potential income-producing asset," according to Gibb, who's managing director of a higher education and real estate financial firm and former chairman of the Wilson College Board of Trustees.

"The possibility of creating a planned residential and/or commercial community on property owned by Sweet Briar College is significant and could result in substantial sums to the College. I strongly recommend that the Saving Sweet Briar Board consider a utilization plan and competitive bid process for the development of land for financial investment," Gibb writes.


Sweet Briar's land "could be used for income from leasehold agreements," according to Krulak, a former commandant of the US Marine Corps and current president of Birmingham-Southern College.

In fact, he pointed out that his college, Birmingham-Southern, has recently looked at establishing a continuing care center on campus for senior citizens. This "income-producing endeavor," he argues, "exemplifies that type of creative thinking learning institutions should engage in while re-tooling their model to meet this new era."

Additionally, this shift could do more for Sweet Briar's long-term survival than just providing a source of income. Monetizing Sweet Briar's campus, Gibb argues, "would have the added benefit of creating increased population density near the college, which could only have a positive impact on enrollment trends for the future."

Sweet Briar College released the following statement about the lawsuit on Tuesday:

Sweet Briar College has the utmost respect for the Office of the County Attorney of Amherst; however, the claims asserted in the County Attorney's Complaint are contrary to well-established Virginia law as expressed by both the General Assembly and the Supreme Court of Virginia. Sweet Briar's counsel engaged in open dialogue with the County Attorney prior to the lawsuit being filed, and although the matter is now in litigation, Sweet Briar will remain receptive to further communications with the County Attorney on all matters as the litigation progresses.


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