Linda Purrington (email@example.com)
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
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
"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
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."
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