Marymount College of Virginia faced troubling times at the start of the 1970s. The expected flood of baby boomers had new options in higher education. Community colleges had begun to spring up across the nation, and many previously all-male schools were going coed. Most importantly, the social and cultural changes wrought by the 1960s had altered women’s expectations and vision of the future.
Marymount began the decade with a sharp decline in enrollment and was soon in financial trouble. It was around this time that Sister Majella Berg promoted Dr. Alice Mandanis, a faculty member in English, to the position of chief academic officer.
Sister Majella realized that the road to recovery would depend, in large part, on changing the college’s academic programs. She charged Dr. Mandanis and senior administrators Jim Kelly and Dr. Linda McMahon with the development of a baccalaureate program that could be implemented quickly and would meet the demand for a career-focused four-year degree.
Dr. Mandanis says, “We came up with a time-shortened bachelor’s program; students could earn the degree in three years of full-time study, including the summers. We introduced the program, named the Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies, in the 1973-74 academic year. Obviously, our main audience was our own students; many of them did take advantage of this option to get their bachelor’s degree. We also started recruiting commuter students at that time.”
“However,” she continues, “the most far-reaching aspect of the three-year program is that it gave rise to Marymount’s required internship. The summer of the program’s second year was reserved for the internship. And what better place to have a great hands-on learning experience than in Washington, DC?”
Mandanis recounts, “I remember driving a group of girls to Marriott headquarters in Bethesda and talking with the executives there about what a great benefit it would be for them to start an internship program. I also remember all of the cubicles, with gentlemen turning their heads in our direction as the parade of attractive young ladies walked by! But seriously, the internship was very new to higher education at that time. Marymount was ahead of the curve.”
All of these efforts, combined with hiring doctorally prepared faculty, proved successful. Before the end of the decade, Marymount had become a senior college and enrollments were once again on the upswing.
Change was also rampant in student life. In 1972, Marymount formed an agreement with the National Institutes of Health to offer the Nursing program to NIH employees. This brought the first male students to campus. In addition, commuter students and non-traditional age women had begun to make up a significant percentage of the student body.
Jan Montgomery, Class of 1978, was one such student. She recalls, “I was probably 25 when I came to Marymount. I had already earned a B.A. in Art at Radford University and then an associate degree in Nursing, but I wanted something different.” After treating children in a hospital’s emergency room, Montgomery had decided that what she really wanted to do was teach. But she had to continue working, figure out how to go to school, and pay for her tuition.
She recalls how Marymount became a reality for her: “Sister Majella arranged for me to live in the dorm. I attended daytime classes and continued to work a 3 to 11 p.m. shift at the hospital. Sister gave me a key to let myself in at night, just in case I had to stay late because of an emergency. She even saved me a parking space!”
Marymount had earned a loyal friend. A few years later, Jan Montgomery and her husband donated a valuable Egyptian Arabian horse to a Marymount Angels silent auction; their gift generated a winning bid of $35,000 to benefit the college!
Having survived a tumultuous and trying period, Marymount emerged stronger than ever. As the 1970s ended, the institution was preparing to advance to yet another level, with the introduction of graduate programs.