Pine Manor College was historically a finishing school, a two-year college for women from relatively affluent families.

Then, when coeducation made women’s colleges unfashionable for Pine Manor’s original demographic, Pine Manor changed, and began to target low-income and minority women. The move kept Pine Manor open, but now the school has a problem.

According to an article by Mary Carmichael in the Boston Globe:

While focusing on poor students, Pine Manor itself became poor. And it is getting poorer. Now, at 100 years old, it faces a second identity crisis: Can it maintain the commitment to low-income students and survive?

Battered by the recession, the school’s endowment has shrunk to under $9 million, less than the price tag of the nearby mansion. It recently landed on a government list of colleges in extremely fragile financial health. It has only 300 students this year, a third less than its typical enrollment. Almost all are on financial aid, and three-fourths are on Pell grants, the federal subsidies for families in need.

The school is in “fragile financial health” but its students and alumni are really committed to the school’s survival. But survival, in this case, is going to be hard. Thanks to the recent decision to target the poor, the school doesn’t have a significant group of wealthy alumni to contribute to the school.

So Pine Manor is going to have to start earning money from tuition again. The school may hike tuition to raise needed cash. That means rich girls, if Pine Manor can attract them.

According to the article:

“The strategy has to be bringing in some students who are better able to pay,’’ said Patricia Casey, a consultant from Maguire Associates who is helping the college sketch out a new strategic plan. “This is the pendulum swing: from rich girls to poor girls to ‘Look, we need some kind of balance.’ ’’

Some kind of balance might be what Pine Manor needs, but it’s hard to figure out how the school might make that happen.

The school earned great praise when it made the decision 15 years ago to educate Boston’s poor. But now it seems to need the rich again. But what attraction does Pine Manor hold for such people? Do the rich need Pine Manor anymore?

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Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer