In 1927, Virginia Alice Cottey Stockard gifted Cottey College to the P.E.O. Sisterhood, making Cottey the only nonsectarian college in the nation owned and supported by women and for women. As described in “Out of the Heart: A Century of P.E.O.,” prior to gifting her college to P.E.O., Virginia “recognized in P.E.O. the same ideals and purposes to which she had devoted her life and stressed for her college.” Struck by the significance of P.E.O.’s potential as a living endowment for her college, at the 1927 Convention of Supreme Chapter, Virginia offered Cottey as a gift to the Sisterhood. After discussion, the recommendation to accept the college was carried favorably. Thus began P.E.O.’s partnership with Cottey.

While P.E.O. proudly owns Cottey’s land and buildings, the relationship regarding Cottey’s governance is more complex. The governance practiced at Cottey is essentially the same as all accredited American colleges and universities. The standard practice is that day-to-day oversight of the College is the responsibility of the college president, delegated by the institution’s board of trustees. The president, in turn, works alongside faculty and staff to carry out the mission work of the college. At Cottey, this work is overseen by the Cottey College Board of Trustees, who are elected by the Executive Board of International Chapter, acting as members of the Cottey Corporation. The Cottey College Board of Trustees is comprised of 11 individuals with expertise across many fields and professional backgrounds, a majority of whom must be active members of P.E.O.

This governance model provides each level with specific duties and responsibilities and is reviewed by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) as part of the accreditation process. In accordance with HLC guidelines: “because HLC accredits the educational institution itself, and not the entity that owns it, it holds the college’s governing board accountable for the key aspects of the operations. The governing board must have the independent authority for such accountability and must also hold itself independent of undue influence from individuals, be they donors, shareholders, … or others with personal or political interests. Governance of a quality institution of higher education will include a significant role for faculty, in particular with regard to currency and sufficiency of the curriculum, expectations for student performance, qualifications of the instructional staff and adequacy of resources for instructional support.” (

As is true across American higher education, Cottey’s curriculum is the responsibility of the faculty. Not only is this a best practice predicated on the understanding that highly prepared faculty members possess the expertise to determine how best to design each course of study to fulfill our students’ learning goals in alignment with our mission, but it is also a central principle of accreditation. Cottey’s curriculum committee provides recommendations on additions to specific courses, majors or programs, initially offered by faculty members who teach in the academic major. The curriculum committee brings the recommended changes to the full faculty for a vote which are then advanced to the college president for consideration if they involve a substantial change to a major or program.

Another example of the Cottey governance model at work is the October 2023 revision of Cottey’s admission policy. The changes to the policy were recommended by a committee comprised of Cottey board members, a member of the Executive Board of International Chapter, members of the administration and a student representative. Cottey faculty, staff, students and a sample of alumnae and P.E.O.s were asked to provide input during the deliberation process. Cottey’s admission policy, as adopted by the Cottey College Board of Trustees, is consistent with state and federal law and includes more inclusive language but reaffirms our proud historical and continued tradition as a women’s college.

Throughout its history and partnership with P.E.O., Cottey has not wavered from its devotion to women’s education and is grateful for P.E.O.’s ownership and support of the college.

Article Info


Dr. Stefanie Niles, President, Cottey College and Alix Smith, First vice President, International Chapter


Cottey College

Article Type

P.E.O. Projects, Special Feature

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