- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 26, 2001

STAUNTON, Va. (AP) — The military program set up at Mary Baldwin College to keep women out of Virginia Military Institute is growing while VMI's female enrollment has leveled off.
This semester, Mary Baldwin's Virginia Women's Institute for Leadership is accepting 57 new students, including 52 freshmen, out of an entering class of about 340 students.
Typically, 42 to 45 new cadets have entered each year since VWIL began six years ago.
VMI, down the road in Lexington, admitted 24 women in an entering class of about 430 this semester.
It brought in 30 or more women for its first two coed classes but has attracted from 24 to 28 women for the following three incoming classes.
Gen. Mike Bissell, the VWIL commandant of cadets, served as commandant at VMI in the years leading up to coeducation.
He believes VWIL's success in part demonstrates that there's still a place for single-sex education — especially for women.
"It's an opportunity for young women who may be a little bit shy or a little bit skittish to develop their poise, their confidence and their maturity and really feel comfortable as leaders," Gen. Bissell said.
The VMI Foundation helped to set up VWIL at private, all-woman Mary Baldwin during the then-all-male school's court fight against coeducation. The group argued that with VWIL as a single-sex alternative for women who want a military-style leadership program, there would be no need to bring women to VMI.
But the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed in 1996, and VMI started accepting women the next year.
The VMI Foundation, which had provided about $2.3 million to Mary Baldwin for VWIL plus $125,000 for scholarships, pulled its funding after the spring semester ended last year.
VWIL, however, is getting money from other sources. A $2.2 million alumnae endowment was established in September 1999. And VWIL continues to receive state tax supplements of $7,464 for tuition and about $1,900 for military education per student each year.
Brenda L. Bryant, VWIL's director since its founding, credits its growth to an increasing number of graduates who are spreading the word to high school prospects.
"We have three graduating classes now, and we've had very good support from our admissions office," she said. "More people know about it and more people look into it."
This semester, VWIL will enroll 133 women and VMI 69 women.
Mary Baldwin offers women a single-sex environment; VMI's Corps of Cadets is overwhelmingly male.
VMI offers cadets a strictly regimented, all-military lifestyle centered on the barracks.
VWIL cadets take regular courses except for required classes and activities. The cadets attend drill and ceremony training each week and take weekly officer training classes at VMI. They are generally in uniform two to three days a week.
VMI cadets go through a brutal and regimented "rat line" that controls many of their actions day in and day out.
Those differences explain why applications to VWIL and VMI scarcely overlap, Ms. Bryant said.
"The most I remember that we've had [who applied to both] was three. We just don't seem to get a lot of crossover."
The mixture of military training with college life appealed to Kelly Marra, one of the "nulls" — the VWIL term for freshmen — who began orientation last week.
"I figured I would get the same thing here that I would at an academy, but I would still have a college life," said Miss Marra, 17, of Waldorf, Md.
Lindsey McClean, 18, of New Kent, Va., sought a military education with a preference for a small college. She looked at several schools in-state but never seriously considered VMI, Miss McClean said. She wanted to be part of a tradition.
"I'm kind of one of those who feel like tradition should be kept to tradition, so I didn't want to be a woman there," Miss McClean said. "But I give a lot of credit to the girls that are there."
VMI's close-cropped haircuts and the lack of options in its small but growing women's athletics offerings have hampered recruiting, the school has said.
The institute received 101 applications from women this year, the most since coeducation began in the fall of 1997.
But Vernon L. Beitzel, director of admissions, said VMI lost more strong women candidates to the service academies this year than it ever has.
"Getting them to choose VMI over the other options they have is where we are right now. It's a tough sell for men and it's a tough sell for women, too," he said at Friday's VMI board of visitors meeting.
VMI has been unable to bring at least 30 freshman women into the corps since the second coed class, which entered with 33 females in the fall of 1998.

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