Regis College, the last Catholic women's college in the Boston area, will go coed next fall.
Yesterday, the Weston school's two oversight boards approved a plan to admit men to the freshman class, four years after school officials had said they would avoid that route to solve financial woes.
Regis had a round of layoffs and cutbacks in 2002, and has continued to have annual deficits since, said Mary Jane England , the school's president.
Admitting men is the only way that the school can quickly grow from 640 undergraduates to a desired 1,000, England said. The school's graduate and adult programs have long been coed.
Regis could meet its goal of financial stability without growing, but needs a larger student body to pay for more faculty and other improvements, she said, adding that the school has been growing, but not fast enough.
During its nearly 80-year history, the school has been known for serving the daughters of first-generation immigrants as well as those from the area's wealthier families.
But England pointed out that surveys show that only about 3 percent of young college-bound women are interested in women's colleges.
Regis officials expect the school to remain predominantly female, and project that 85 men will enroll next fall.
``By going coed, we felt we could be available to more women and men," England said.
When Regis begins admitting male undergraduates, only one Catholic women's college will remain in New England, Saint Joseph's College in Hartford, and only six women's colleges will exist in the Bay State. In recent years, Emmanuel College, also Catholic, and Lesley College also went co-ed.
In the short term, admitting men will be costly, England said. Regis expects to spent about $600,000 this year and $1 million in each of the next several years for expenses tied to admitting men, including starting a male athletics program -- beginning with basketball -- hiring men on the admissions staff, and revising the school's publicity.
England said the school is planning a capital campaign and expects to be operating in the black by 2010. This year's deficit was $3 million, and the college has had to draw down its endowment considerably.
The Sisters of St. Joseph founded Regis in 1927, buying 150 acres in Weston for $750,000. Today, more than half of undergraduates are first-generation college students; 40 percent are minorities.
A point of pride for the school came when John F. Kennedy , who was not yet president, consulted Regis about his blueprint for the Peace Corps. The school had an unusual program that sent women to volunteer in the Southwest, the Pacific, and Latin America, England said.
Students have known for the past year that the school was considering going coed, and they reacted yesterday with a mix of regret and resignation.
Kathryn Enrici, a sophomore from West Roxbury, said she is sad that Regis is changing, but would rather the school admit men than shut down.
``Right now we go to school in our pajamas," said Enrici. ``For some girls, they'll still look like they just woke up, but for other girls, they'll be completely dressed with full makeup and shoes. Plus some girls just don't like speaking up in front of boys, so that'll be a big change."
Still, she said she will value having male perspectives in class.
Sophie Gabrion , a junior, said she doesn't think admitting men will change the classroom experience. But Gabrion, who is on the school's swim team, said she is concerned about losing athletic opportunities for women because of limited funding and facilities.
Other students, she said, wonder how men will be assimilated into dormory life.
Yet, ``I don't think Regis is going to be any less special if guys come here," she said.