NYT College Women

Linda Purrington (lpurring@earthlink.net)
Mon, 07 Dec 1998 09:23:21 -0800

New York Times
December 6, 1998

          By TAMAR LEWIN

          Slowly but surely, college campuses that for decades
          were dominated by males are becoming the place where
          the boys are not.

          In a trend that is reshaping everything from recruiting
          to social life, women increasingly outnumber men at
          colleges and universities. Even if the imbalance never
          becomes extreme, it raises concerns about the
          consequences of fewer men getting advanced education,
          and the sense that the liberal arts education may become
          a women's domain.

          "I don't know why there are more
          women here, but I know that in
          high school I always felt women
          did better and cared more about
          doing well," said Catherine Gang,
          a sophomore at New York
          University, where there are nearly six women for every
          four men, a ratio shared by, among others, Fordham
          University, the University of California at Santa Cruz,
          the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and
          Beloit College.

          Nationally, the population of students enrolled in
          higher education tipped toward women more than a decade
          ago, and the skew is growing, year by year. Although
          census figures show that there are slightly more
          college-age men than women, according to U.S. Department
          of Education statistics, there were 8.4 million women
          and only 6.7 million men enrolled in college in 1996,
          the last year for which statistics are available.

          The number of men enrolled in college has declined each
          year from 1991 to 1995 but rose in 1996, while the
          number of women has risen steadily. And by 2007, the
          department projects, that gender gap will be larger,
          with 9.2 million women and only 6.9 million men.

          Women outnumber men in every category of higher
          education: public, private, religiously affiliated,
          four-year, two-year. And among part-time students, older
          students and African-Americans, the skew is much larger.

          "Men are just not as interested in higher education as
          women," said Alan McIvor, vice president of enrollment
          services at Beloit in Wisconsin, who two years ago began
          urging the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, a group
          of 14 liberal arts colleges, to study the issue. "They
          have these nonacademic interests: the butcher, baker,
          the candlestick maker. But at a residential liberal arts
          college, where kids learn as much from each other as
          from their professors, I think we should be concerned
          about the mix of students, about gender balance, about
          attracting more young men who are as strong as our women

          There is no clear consensus on what men are doing
          instead of college, and why they are less committed to
          higher education. But education experts say it is
          probably a confluence of factors, from girls' greater
          success in high school to a strong economy that may give
          boys a sense that they can make their way without higher
          education, whether in computer work or the military.

          And at a time when the country's high school graduation
          rate is lagging behind the rates in other industrialized
          nations, boys are more likely to drop out than girls.

          "You start with who does well in high school, and girls
          are ahead there, which some people say is because they
          tolerate boredom better," said Patricia Albjerg Graham,
          president of the Spencer Foundation of Chicago, which
          specializes in educational research, and past dean of
          the Harvard School of Education. "Then there are racial
          and ethnic differences; black girls persist in school
          more than black boys. Those differences account for part
          of what's going on, but I think the larger difference is
          that men feel it easier to get a job that can support
          them. This tilt to women has a great deal to do with
          what people of modest means do or don't do
          educationally, and whether they see higher education as
          necessary to their future."

          Given the widening income gap between high school
          graduates and those with advanced degrees, though, many
          education experts worry that men's failure to pursue
          higher education will seriously limit their life

          "We need to be concerned that higher education is losing
          poor and minority men, that more African-American men
          are going to prison than to college," said Arthur
          Levine, the president of Columbia University's Teachers
          College. "It's also worth thinking about what it means
          if our broadest education, the liberal arts, is
          increasingly being reserved for one sex."

          For college admissions officials, the
          under-representation of men poses a challenge. Most say
          they are aware of the gender imbalance, but not overly
          concerned -- yet.

          But there seems to be a consensus that somewhere beyond
          a 60-40 split, there comes a moment when a school ceases
          to be a comfortable place for both sexes. "We do have
          some concern about the skew going too far," said Jerry
          Lucido, director of admissions at the University of
          North Carolina. "How far is too far? I guess that would
          be if students here thought it was a problem. We
          certainly don't want the reputation that Chapel Hill is
          not a place for men, because that's not true."

          The threshold at which colleges start to worry has
          shifted in the last few years, said Levine, a former
          liberal arts college president.

          "It used to be that you worried at 55 percent women, but
          the new wisdom is that anything up to 60 percent is OK,"
          he said. "Probably nobody will admit it, but I know that
          lots of places try to get some gender balance by having
          easier admissions standards for boys than for girls.
          Recently, at a school where I was giving a speech, I
          asked 'How far down the list are you going for boys?'
          and the answer was 'All the way.' The problem is that if
          you take men who are not of the same caliber as the
          women, the highest-performing women leave, because the
          men aren't as interesting."

          Admissions policies are not the only ways to address the
          issue, though. Many schools are repackaging themselves
          to attract more male interest.

          "We've had researchers, in-house and independent, help
          us shape the messages we use in our letters to the
          individual candidates we contact through the College
          Board," said John Buckley, the dean of admissions at
          Fordham University. "For women, the messages we're
          stressing are small classes, personal attention and
          access to professors. For men, we're talking about
          internships and intercollegiate sports."

          When Buckley arrived at Fordham 15 years ago, the
          student body was split evenly between men and women, but
          a skew became noticeable about five years ago, and now
          incoming freshman classes, he said, run about 59 percent
          women, 41 percent men.

          Baylor University in Waco, Texas., which like Fordham is
          religiously affiliated, has also taken steps to entice
          male applicants.

          "We're a liberal arts school with a large education
          school and we know we're heavy toward women, so we've
          fought it a little, by adding some majors that we
          thought would appeal to guys, and an engineering
          school," said Stan Madden, vice president of university
          relations. "We're having our recruiting literature
          redesigned, and we've been thinking about what's a
          feminine look, and what's a masculine look. We had a
          picture of a library with a lot of stained glass, and
          people said that was kind of a feminine cover. Now we're
          using a picture of the quadrangle."

          While the colleges that were formerly for men only have
          had no trouble finding large numbers of female students,
          many former women's colleges are still struggling to
          attract enough qualified men to reach the 40-60

          "We talk about it a lot, that we're at 33 percent and
          until we reach the 40 percent threshold, we haven't
          completely made the transition," said Gail Berson, the
          dean of admissions at Wheaton College, in Massachusetts.
          "You need to have that critical mass."

          And some, like Vassar and Sarah Lawrence, admit a higher
          percentage of male applicants than female ones.

          "We have no preset criteria for men or women, and we
          review them one at a time, but we do take slightly more
          men," said David Borus, director of admissions at
          Vassar, which accepts not quite 40 percent of the women
          who apply, and slightly more than half the men. "Because
          we want to try and have some gender balance, I think
          there is a bit of a mindset that may be a bit more
          generous to the men."

          At most engineering and technical schools, including the
          Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carnegie
          Mellon, men are still the majority. Harvard, Yale and
          Princeton still have a male edge, as do the University
          of Chicago and Johns Hopkins University.

          But at most liberal arts schools, women are the

          "There may be a bias against the liberal arts, a feeling
          that real men don't speak French, that in the 20th
          century these are women's topics and men do economics
          and engineering," said Catharine Stimpson, a feminist
          scholar who is dean of the Graduate School of Arts and
          Science at NYU.

          At NYU, Matthew Santirocco, the dean of the College of
          Arts and Science, said he was untroubled by the gender

          "It's a very diverse, very inclusive environment,"
          Santirocco said. "I'd only be troubled if it got to the
          point where it was a majoritarian environment, where the
          minority was afraid to raise their hands."

          While the feeling may be absent at NYU, Ms. Stimpson
          said, some schools develop a sense of unease as women
          become the majority.

          "At some places, I've seen trustees worry about the
          skew," she said. "Male trustees get worried if the
          gender balance goes to 48 to 52, and the female trustees
          say, 'Are you crazy, were you worried when it was 48 to
          52 the other way?' I think it's about money and prestige
          and an old atavistic fear of tipping. Some people still
          believe that if you're a women's institution, you're a
          lesser institution."

          Students at NYU express mixed feelings about the gender
          imbalance, with many male students saying they thrive on

          "I knew there were more girls than boys when I applied,"
          said Hugh Curnutt, a junior, "and I thought it was a
          positive thing, because if there's more girls, the
          dating possibilities go up. I feel more comfortable in
          classes where there aren't so many guys. It's less
          competitive and intimidating. Guys always want to take
          you on. They're really quick to say, 'He's all wrong.'
          Girls might disagree but they'll say something like, "He
          might be right, but I think ...' In my communications
          class I think there's 29 girls and 2 guys. I love it."

          The women tend to be less enthusiastic.

          "There aren't many guys to date, and the ones there are
          have their pick of so many women that they have a
          tendency to become players," said Ms. Gang, a drama
          student. "I've fallen in love with more gay guys than
          anyone should. And in scene classes, we have to do a
          whole lot of two-women scenes. But it's not so bad,
          because we're in New York City, and you can always find
          a way to meet people off campus."

Forwarded by lpurring@earthlink.net

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