By Gary Robertson
(Reuters) - A Virginia circuit court judge on Monday approved a settlement to keep open the state's all-women's Sweet Briar College, prompting supporters of the 114-year-old private college to make a plea for students who had transferred out to return.
School officials in March said they had planned to close the school in August and most faculty contracts were due to expire on June 30. But opponents of the plan fought to block them in court, saying that the school was controlled by a trust, which would make its closure subject to court approval.
Under the terms of the agreement approved by Bedford Circuit Judge James Updike, supporters' group Saving Sweet Briar Inc is to deliver $12 million in donations for the operation of the college within the next 60 days, with $2.5 million to be made available by July 2.
The settlement calls for the appointment of a new president and a new board of directors at Sweet Briar, located on a 3,200-acre campus near Lynchburg, about 115 miles west of Richmond, that was once a slave-holding plantation.
The Saving Sweet Briar group also encouraged incoming freshman who might be considering other institutions to apply to Sweet Briar, according to local media.
"As the transition process advances, Saving Sweet Briar will be working closely with the college and incoming leaders to help answer critical questions for our students, their families and faculty and staff," Sarah Clement, chair of Saving Sweet Briar, said in a statement.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, who mediated the agreement between Sweet Briar officials and college supporters, has said he will consent to the release of restrictions on $16 million from the college's endowment to augment alumnae funds for the operation of the college.
According to the Women's College Coalition, in 2014 there were 47 women's colleges United States and Canada, a drop from 230 in 1960.
This spring, Sweet Briar's enrollment fell to 532, from a high of more than 700 students.