East Bay politicians, Mills alumni 'heartbroken and outraged' over decision to close historic college

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Mills College officials announced Wednesday that the historic school would stop admitting new students after fall 2021 and would most likely grant its last degrees in 2023.

Mills is recognized as one of the most diverse liberal arts schools in the country. But despite its distinguishing features - a 135-acre campus in Oakland, one of only 34 women's colleges in the U.S., and the first single-sex college to welcome transgender students - Mills is closing.

"In recent years, our enrollment numbers have declined and it's become more difficult to support the costs of the overall college operation," said college president Beth Hillman.

Mills first opened as a women's seminary in 1852. Now after nearly 170 years, Hillman says it was the pandemic that forced the school to end enrollment.

"Mills needs to consider a different way to fulfill its mission."

While the school will be closing to college and graduate students, Mills as a campus and an organization will be staying open as a new leadership institution - the "Mills Institute."

"That institute will do what Mills does best: promote women's leadership, advance gender and racial justice, and encourage student success," explained Hillman.

Many alumnae, who are fixtures in local politics, aren't convinced.

"So many people I have met at Mills are working for cities around the Bay Area," said Berkeley Vice Mayor Lori Droste, who got her masters in public policy from Mills and has lectured at the school. "I'm really proud of the education I received at Mills... it lived up to being an inclusive place for people all around the Bay Area."

"It's just a wonderful place. It's really additive to our community, that's what makes it so sad," said Droste.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee sent a statement to ABC7 from Washington D.C. that says she is "heartbroken and outraged."

She wrote, "I was able to attend college and earn a degree as a single mother on public assistance who often had to bring her sons to class - something that would have been impossible at many other colleges or universities."

"I am asking the Board of Trustees to reconsider the decision to close the college," wrote Lee. "It is critical that the Board... not allow any path that would diminish opportunities for African American and Latin students."

Hillman said Mills will most likely confer its final degrees in 2023, "pending further consideration and action by the Board of Trustees."
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