Citing fiscal burdens of pandemic, Oakland's historic Mills College to close undergraduate college

Mills College in Oakland announced Wednesday that it will no longer admit first-year undergraduate students after this fall and will likely hand out its final degrees in 2023.

Mills describes itself as "a nationally renowned independent liberal arts college for women and gender nonbinary students, with graduate programs for all genders," and has been at its 135-acre campus on MacArthur Boulevard since 1871 after starting as a small seminary in Benicia.

Mills President Elizabeth Hillman in the announcement about the changes cited "the economic burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic, structural changes across higher education, and Mills' declining enrollment and budget deficits" as reasons for the move away from being a degree-granting college.

Hillman said the school will work with students to either earn a degree at Mills or transfer to another college or university, and that there are plans to create a Mills Institute on the campus to "continue to foster women's leadership and student success, advance gender and racial equity, and cultivate innovative pedagogy, research, and critical thinking."

More information about academic opportunities for students, transition plans for faculty and staff, and potential programming for a Mills Institute will be shared in the coming weeks and months, she said.

"Today's news signals the end of an era in Mills College's history. It may provoke a variety of reactions and emotions in you, as it has in me," Hillman wrote. "Mills takes seriously our obligation to keep you apprised as we assess options and build pathways for the transition."

Mills started as a "young ladies seminary" in Benicia in 1852 and moved to Oakland in 1871, where it became chartered as the first women’s college west of the Rockies.

With its history tied to Oakland, Mills became known for its progressive education on gender, race and social justice. 

The full letter from Hillman and more information on the transition can be found here.

Bay City News contributed to this KTVU report.