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Report Card -
Access to Higher Education
Introduction | Progress
Reports | Action Agenda | Executive
Summary (AAUW web site)
IX has made great inroads in higher education, providing women with
much greater access to our nation's colleges and universities, which
is as critical to their economic wellbeing and success today
as it was in 1972 when Congress enacted the statute. Title IX has
helped reduce sex discrimination, most notably in admissions standards,
to the benefit of women and men alike. But other barriers to higher
education persist, including sex segregation and disparities in financial
aid awards, among others.
Up until the 1970s, a great many of the nation's colleges and universitiesand
publicsimply excluded women outright. Institutions that
admitted women welcomed them with a maze of obstacles including quotas,
requirements to live in limited oncampus housing, and tougher
admissions criteria. Other colleges and universities strictly scrutinized
whether women applicants were serious about pursuing a degree, based
on their assumptions that women were most interested in marriage and
children. In college interviews, women applicants to doctoral programs
often had to explain how they would combine a career with a family.
Admissions policies too frequently were guided by traditional attitudes
about the 'proper' place of women and the widespread belief that women
would drop out of school to take their 'rightful' place in the home.
As a result, many colleges and universities limited women's entry
to ensure that only the most 'committed' studentsmenwould
have access to educational opportunities.
Harvard University, which opened its doors in 1636, did
not admit women until 1943.
The University of Virginia excluded women until 1970.
The University of North Carolina limited the number of
women by requiring them to live on campus, where there
was little housing. Men, in contrast, could live anywhere
seeking admission to the New York State College of Agriculture
in the early 1970s needed SAT scores 30 to 40 points higher
Twentyfive years later, most such overt practices have been
eliminated throughout higher education. Women have walked through
these newly opened doors of opportunity in ever increasing numbers
across the board:
Women clearly have made gains in achieving access to higher education,
as these figures demonstrate. However, women still lag behind their
male counterparts in earning doctoral and professional degrees, which
is especially striking in light of the number of women receiving bachelor's
of Degrees Awarded to Women
Aid. Twentyfive years ago, just as today, financial
aid meant the difference between pursuing higher education and abandoning
that dream. Prior to Title IX, many colleges and universities kept
women from receiving this critical assistance by:
Title IX meant
an end to many policies and practices denying women financial aid.
Over the past 25 years, financial aid programs have been modified
to facilitate women's access into higher education, recognizing that
many women must support not only themselves, but also their families,
as they pursue degrees. Women make up almost 60 percent of parttime
students and 58 percent of students over 24. Women who attend a postsecondary
institution also are twice as likely as men to have dependents, and
three times as likely to be single parents. To make higher education
more accessible to these students, Congress enacted several key provisions
in the 1986 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. For example,
Pell Grants and campusbased aid are now awarded to parttime
students as well as fulltime students. In addition, Pell Grants
include an allowance for child care expenses as part of calculating
the cost of attendance. Moreover, all students are allowed to waive
the value of their home in the calculation of expected family contribution
to determine eligibility for financial aid.
the most prestigious scholarships, such as the Rhodes Scholarship,
- giving preference
to men in the award of other scholarships, fellowships, and loans;
financial aid from women who were married, pregnant, or parenting,
or from parttime students, who were more likely to be women;
to allow for child care expenses; or
women into low paying workstudy jobs.
However, despite these advances, disparities still exist in the distribution
of financial aid. For example, according to a 1997 study by the National
Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), women athletes receive only
38 percent of scholarship dollars: for that year, men received a whopping
$1.5 million in athletics scholarships, compared to just $634,689
for women. In addition, although Title IX allows educational institutions
to take affirmative steps to remedy past discrimination, it also allows
colleges and universities to exclude women from certain scholarships
that have no remedial purpose whatsoever. Title IX's implementing
regulation permits schools to administer scholarships created under
a will, bequest, or other legal instrument that is sex specific: for
example, scholarships exist for male engineering students who are
members of the Sigma Chi Fraternity, men from New Jersey, or men who
attended certain high schools. Unlike many scholarships targeting
women and people of color, these scholarships do not remedy past discrimination;
in fact, they help men gain access to fields in which they already
are well represented.
Segregation in Courses. Even though growing numbers of women
receive degrees in all levels of postsecondary education, they continue
to be underrepresented in nontraditional fields that lead to
greater earning power upon graduation. Women continue to be clustered
in areas traditional for their gender. Data from 19921993, for
example, show that women received 77 percent of the undergraduate
education degrees, 73 percent of psychology degrees, and 66 percent
of English degrees. In contrast, women earned only 26 percent of undergraduate
degrees in computer and information sciences, 18 percent of the physics
degrees, and fewer than 15 percent of all undergraduate engineering
degrees. This pattern of sex segregation directly limits women's earning
power upon graduation because careers in math and the sciences frequently
result in higher pay. For example, in 1996 engineers had median weekly
earnings of $949; in contrast, elementary school teachers' median
weekly earnings that year were $662, about 30 percent less.
Women still lag behind men in earning doctoral and professional
Disparities regarding athletics scholarships persist.
Some scholarships still are reserved for men.
Women are underrepresented in math and science, due, in
large part, to the hostile environment many confront in
Educational institutions are moving to dismantle affirmative
action programs that have increased access to women and
students of color.
Low-income women have lost an avenue to higher education
because of the new welfare law.
Sex segregation is even more acute among women pursuing doctoral degrees,
where they already are underrepresented. For the academic year 199394,
women received 22 percent of all mathematics doctorate degrees, 15
percent of doctorates awarded in computers and information sciences,
12 percent of physics doctorate degrees, and only 11 percent of all
doctorates awarded in engineering. Women earned doctorates in areas
traditional for their gender, earning 61 percent of all psychology
doctoral degrees, 60 percent of foreign language doctoral degrees,
and 59 percent of education doctoral degrees. Women's underrepresentation
in math and sciencerelated fields affects more than their earning
potential. It also limits the numbers of women university professors
in these fields, who, in turn could encourage more young women to
enter math and science programs.
The hostile environment many women encounter in the sciences, mathematics,
and engineering no doubt plays a great role in women's underrepresentation
in these fields. Research has shown that women pursuing math and sciences
in higher education face outright hostility in too many instances:
Less blatant forms
of sexism also are commonplace, and make the environment equally unpleasant.
sabotaging of female students' experiments;
comments that women do not belong in certain departments or schools;
slide presentations with pictures of nude women, purportedly to
'liven up' the classroom; or
- sexual harassment
in laboratory or field work, causing women to avoid these settings
The 'chilly' climate
for women, coupled with the small number of female faculty in math,
sciences, and engineering, effectively limit women's access to these
fields and, in so doing, close off important career alternatives for
- Male faculty
may be reluctant to work with women because they question their
- Male students
may exclude women from study groups and project teams.
- Male students
who do work with women may try to dominate projects.
- Many faculty
refuse to incorporate the work of women in math and science in
the curriculum, reinforcing women's invisibility in these areas.
Access in the Future. Recent policy developments threaten
women's access to higher education, signaling a retrenchment of the
progress made through 25 years of Title IX. For example, in 1996,
the Congress and President Clinton approved a new welfare law that
prohibits women receiving public assistance from attending a postsecondary
institution as a means of meeting their work requirement. Prior to
this law, states had the discretion to allow welfare recipients to
attend a twoyear or fouryear college. These women are
now denied a path that could lead to selfsufficiency.
In addition, recent assaults on affirmative action could mean the
end of programs that have helped women redress past sex discrimination
and enhanced their educational opportunities, particularly in areas
where they have been and continue to be underrepresented, such as
math and science. The 1996 passage of California Proposition 209 and
the Hopwood v. State of Texas decision may give impetus to colleges
and universities, in many cases unnecessarily, to dismantle the current
policies and impede access to higher education for women and people
- The U.S.
Department of Education should submit an annual report to Congress
detailing disbursement of financial aid, loans and grants, and
awards in higher education disaggregated by race and gender. The
Department also should provide recommendations for addressing
disparities in financial aid distribution.
- The Department
of Education and other federal agencies funding higher education
programs should target Title IX enforcement to address discriminatory
practices that discourage women from pursuing math and science
institutions should provide opportunities to encourage women to
enter math and science fields of study and develop programs designed
to increase women's retention in these areas.
should amend the welfare law to allow women on welfare the opportunity
to pursue postsecondary education and to allow college study and
work study to count toward a welfare recipient's work requirement.
- The Department
of Education should clarify legally acceptable forms of affirmative
action in education for women and people of color and encourage
should restore funding to the Patricia Roberts Harris Fellowships
to encourage women and students of color to enter master's, professional,
and doctoral programs where they are underrepresented.
- Yolanda T.
Moses, Black Women in Academe: Issues and Strategies (Association
of American Colleges, 1989).
- S.S. Nieves-Squires,
Hispanic Women in Academe: Making their Presence on Campus
Less Tenuous (Project on the Status and Education of Women,
Association of American Colleges, 1991).
- B.R. Sandler,
L. Silverberg, and R.M. Hall, The Chilly Classroom Climate:
A Guide to Improve the Education of Women (National Association
for Women in Education, 1996).
- B.R. Sandler,
Women Faculty in the Classroom, Or, Why it Still Hurts to be a
Woman in Labor (National Association for Women in Education,
- B.R. Sandler,
B.R. and R.M.S. Hall, The Campus Climate Revisited: Chilly
for Women Faculty, Administrators and Graduate Students (Association
of American Colleges, 1986).
- U.S. Department
of Education. National Advisory Council on Women's Educational
Programs, Title IX: The Half Full, Half Empty Glass (1981).
- U.S. Department
of Education. National Center for Education Statistics, Digest
of Education Statistics, NCES 96-133 (1996).
- U.S. Department
of Education. National Center for Education Statistics, NPSAS:96
Federal Aid Recipients 1995-96. (October 1996).
- U.S. Department
of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment and Earnings