Financially struggling Rosemont College will end its distinction as the last Catholic all-women's college in the region and become coed, the school announced today.

Rosemont's Board of Trustees on Friday unanimously approved the move to begin accepting men for fall 2009.

The vote, which followed 15 months of study by several committees, came even as opposition to the change mounted from the Save Rosemont Coalition, a group of concerned alumni and friends of the college.

"We all have been great proponents of the undergraduate women's college and we know, understand, and value the merits of an all-women's education; however, through our analysis, research, and evaluation we learned that Rosemont cannot continue to be viable as a Catholic single-sex college at the undergraduate level," Ron Remick, president of the Board of Trustees said in a prepared statement.

Nicole Cirone, a 1994 graduate, said coalition members have asked to speak at this weekend's annual alumni festivities at the college on Montgomery Avenue in Rosemont. If they are denied, they will stage a protest. Going co-ed will not help the college deal with the financial problems and weaknesses and could erode it, she said.

"Rosemont's decision to embrace co-education is a quick fix to a more profound problem that involves the culture of the college as well as resources and curriculum," said Cirone, director of diversity and a faculty member at the Malvern Preparatory School.

Longtime political science professor Robert F. Mulvihill called the decision "deeply regrettable and uninspired."

The school should have looked at forming a partnership with neighboring Villanova University, a Catholic coed school, he said.

"No legitimate reason was ever given for refusing to talk with Villanova," he said. "Alternatives were not fully or adequately considered."

College officials said they had rejected the idea of an outright merger with a larger school such as Villanova, which enrolls about 6,300, because Rosemont with its 342 students would lose its identity.

The college in its statement noted that 38 percent of the board of trustees are alumni and included a statement from Ann Myhr, president of the Rosemont College Alumni Association.

Myhr said in the statement that most of the alumni are in favor of the plan.

"As we fully expected, we have had some alums who are disappointed that Rosemont will no longer be all-women's at the undergraduate level," she said. "However, once they take the time to review the entire plan and to grasp the reality of today's educational environment, most say, 'OK, it is a good plan and will move the college forward.' "

Erin Smist, a 2003 graduate now working as a government-affairs analyst, said she felt "empty" upon hearing the decision.

"Rosemont was a place that I felt I was going to care about for the rest of my life," said Smist, of Malvern.

The board of trustees also approved a strategic plan for the school that, among other things, proposes expanded online degrees in the college's graduate- and professional-studies programs, which are already coed.

Founded in 1921, Rosemont in recent years has faced a drop in enrollment. The school ended the spring semester with a projected $1 million deficit in its $20 million budget.

Several other small women's Catholic colleges in the area have gone coed in recent years, including Immaculata in Chester County and Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia. Both report more than doubling their enrollments since the switch.

Nationally, only 52 women's colleges remain, down from nearly 300 in the late 1960s. About a third are Catholic institutions.

Rosemont officials said a survey of 30,000 area high-school females found that fewer than 1 percent were interested in a Catholic women's college.

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or ssnyder@phillynews.com. ;