Getting To Know: Spelman College (GA)
Founded in 1881 in Atlanta, Georgia, Spelman College was the first Historically Black College, dedicated exclusively to educating women. Given the high profile of the college, especially the alumni base, I wanted to learn more. So I did some research and assembled a Pinterest page for you. Spelman alumni include legislator/author/voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, poet/novelist Alice Walker (The Color Purple) and Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund, among many others. Most recently, Spelman accepted 28 percent of applicants for the Class of 2026, according to Chelsea Holly, director of admissions.
One reason for my interest in Spelman College is the increased interest from young Black women. That was validated in the data that I found as well as the numerous YouTubes and reviews that I checked out in advance of my conversation with Chelsea.
Applications tripled from 4,300 in 2014-2015 to over 11,000 in 2021-2022.
At the same time:
- The size of a first-year class has grown from 550 to nearly 800, though it will be between 610 and 620 for the coming academic year..
- SAT Middle 50% scores rose from 900 to 1100 to 1070 to 1240
- ACT Middle 50% scores rose from 19 to 24 to 20 to 28
- Average high school GPA rose from 3.5 to 3.8
- The student body has grown from just under 2,200 young women to over 2,400
But Spelman’s yield, the percentage of admitted applicants who deposited dropped from 24 to 13 percent.
I went through eight years of Common Data Sets. In only one year (2021) could the college meet, on average of 50 percent of financial need for those who qualified for aid. In addition, Spelman has not gotten at least a fifth of its freshman class through Early Decision since 2015. But it has reported data for Early Action for the three more recent admissions cycles data is available.
- 2019-20: EA admits made up 55 percent of the incoming first-year class
- 2020-21: EA admits made up 56 percent of the incoming first-year class
- 2021-22: EA admits made up 56 percent of a larger incoming first-year class
I could not help but think that Spelman might be a first-choice school, but that most accepted students had to wait for the financial aid offer before they could commit to a deposit, and that the offer was, more often than not, less than they needed to go.
Those who commit tend to stay.
Spelman’s freshman retention has been between 88 and 91 percent since 2014. The college typically graduates two-thirds of their first-year class on time. That’s the best performance of any HBCU in the nation and about what you should expect from any very good private liberal arts college.
Spelman College has had strong leadership.
The retiring president, Mary Schmidt Campbell, was a charismatic leader and extremely effective fundraisers. Campbell, an art curator, was formerly New York City’s Commissioner of Cultural Affairs, then later Dean of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Spelman’s Center for Innovation and the Arts, the new “front porch” of the campus was dedicated under her leadership. The college’s endowment grew to $530 million as of FY 2021. Alumni giving rose from less than $12 million in 2016-17 to nearly $74 million in 2019-20, according to the college Fact Book..
Spelman’s incoming president, Helene Gayle, will have a tough act to follow, but she is amply qualified. Gale, a physician and epidemiologist, was formerly Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago Community Trust. Dr. Gale’s success as a fundraiser-she grew the Trust’s assets from $2.8 billion to $4.7 billion-and her medical background will be important in driving this college’s future forward in the sciences. Dr. Gale is the second black physician to led the college. Audrey Manley, a Spelman alum and president from 1997 to 2002, was the first.
Like several other woman’s colleges, Spelman College is in a consortium with neighboring schools.
The college and its consortial partners, Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University, also HBCU’s, collectively have over 7,400 undergrads. That’s only 400 fewer than Howard University (DC), the second-ranked Historically Black College after Spelman. While Spelmanites take classes and participate in extracurricular activities with students at the other two schools, there is also a brother-sister relationship with Morehouse, which is all male, some brother-sister “sibling” relationships with Clark Atlanta, which is coed. These are strictly friendships to help each other become acclimated and settled in a college community. It is not intended to become a dating relationship.
Spelman has much of what I have liked about women’s colleges.
I have visited other women’s colleges in person, including three (Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Smith) that are exceptionally selective. These schools impressed me for their academics as well as programs in the sciences and leadership development. Spelman has an Honors Program, Social Justice Associates, G-STEM science and engineering mentorship, First Generation Scholars, and the Spelman Independent Scholars Oral History Project.
But unlike other women’s colleges, Spelman does not compete in intercollegiate athletics. Instead, every Spelmanite has a two-semester Wellness requirement. Other unique requirements include:
- One-credit First Year Interdisciplinary Big Questions Colloquia
- Two-semester sequence in African Diaspora Studies
- Computer Literacy
- Comparative Women’s Studies or International Studies
- Two-semester sequenced Freshman and Sophomore Experiences
Spelman has divisional requirements: one semester each in English Composition, Mathematics, Humanities, Fine Arts, Social Sciences and Natural Sciences as well as a foreign language requirement. It’s possible to double dip to use general education requirements towards a second major or minor. But if you were seeking a more open curriculum to explore potential majors or explore for exploration’s sake, this might not be your school.
There’s are programs in Curatorial Studies, Documentary Film Making and Food Studies that are difficult to find at another liberal arts college. The Health Science program has become increasingly popular as well. While I could not find data to gauge interest in engineering, Spelman has 13 dual degree partners for the major, more than any school I have covered to date. Only one school (Elon University) has even come close with nine. Over a third of Spelmanites have majors in mathematics or the sciences, Biological Sciences being the most popular. Spelman also has several partnerships for students interested in advance programs in the health professions. The social sciences, especially Political Science, Psychology and Economics are also popular.
Atlanta is part of the attraction of Spelman
Spelman College is a rare school where young women can have a strong campus-based social life and also be offered the opportunity to explore a dynamic city life.
There’s an extensive History and Traditions Guide that any prospective Spelmanite should check out before applying which cover major events and obligations on campus. The history and traditions are taken quite seriously by Spelman sisters based on the YouTubes that I watched and the student reviews I read. But unlike other women’s colleges, Spelman has sororities. All four sororities are among the Divine Nine Black Greek Organizations. I asked Chelsea about this in our interview, so I hope that you will listen in.
From a virtual distance I felt that Spelman’s campus was quite easy to navigate though, like many older liberal arts colleges, it had relied more on renovations than new construction. First-year residence halls are older than those that house upper-class students , and have no air conditioning. I saw some room layouts that used privacy dividers and rooms within one room that I don’t see at other schools. If you choose a college based on lounges in a residence hall, this will not be your school. But the Suites, the newest hall for upper-class students is the first LEED certified residence hall at an HBCU. Two-thirds of Spelmanites live on campus. Some who live off campus reside in apartment style housing with students from other Atlanta colleges.
Spelman is located in the city’s historic West End, a diverse but largely African-American neighborhood. It is served by its own MARTA stop about a 15-minute walk from campus. That’s a good thing because first-year students cannot have cars unless they are commuters from the local area.
Spelmanites fare well in internship and jobs searches but also face considerable competition given the large number of colleges in the city, though they are quite successful in their search. Working with the alumni base might be more important here than at any school in Atlanta, given Spelman’s smaller size versus Emory, Georgia State or Georgia Tech.
The largest number of Spelman alumna are in Georgia
According to the college’s Fact Book over 7,000 alumni live in the Peachtree State, and alumni participate in events on campus, even though nearly 80 percent of the current students hail from elsewhere. There are over 1,000 alumni in California, New York and Maryland and nearly 1,000 in Texas. There are also more than 500 in Washington DC. The last number is the most significant, given the small size of the nation’s capital relative to four of the most populous American states. Further, this is one school where the bonds formed on campus are stronger than the actual numbers.
The costs have to work out.
Spelman’s direct charges in 2022-23 (tuition and fees, room and board) will be approximately $46,000. That’s less than many private liberal arts colleges, including the more selective women’s colleges, charge for tuition and fees alone. Those charges are also less than a New Jersey resident would pay as a full-pay student to go to Penn State-University Park or the University of Delaware.
However, when I dove into the Common Data Sets accessible from Spelman’s Web site, I saw that the college only recently (2020-21) began to meet, on average, half of financial need.. Every data set I saw showed that student borrowers who graduated each year from 2014 to 2021 owed, on average, over $30,000. If a prospective Spelmanite was also interested in Smith or Mount Holyoke, as examples, she would have owed less than $27,000, the maximum she could borrow through the Federal Student Loan program.
A Spelman education can be a truly rewarding and transformative experience, where you have a network for life. I have never heard students and alumni proclaim as much love for a school online as those in the Spelman community. However, the costs have to work out for young women to come to the ‘Birthplace of Black Girl Magic.’.
Report Card: Spelman College
- Four-Year/Six-Year Graduation Rates: A
- Freshman Retention: A
- Costs: C+
- Comforts: B
- Community: A
- Curriculum: A
- Connections: A
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