Economic preferences in college admissions, or how to close the gender gap

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The debate over male affirmative action in Ivy League admissions is nonexistent because the ratio of male to female students at the nation's most prestigious institutions is nearly even. The (Manchester, N.H.) Union Leader recently reported Dartmouth's entering class is 50-50. No shortage of men there. Nor are they in short supply at elite math and science schools, such as MIT.

If we peer back in history just a few decades, we see that male dominance on college campuses, when it was the norm, was partially at least, government induced. The Union Leader reported last month:

A recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found men dominated college campuses until the late 1970s through largely artificial means. The GI Bill after World War II made it easier for thousands of veterans to afford college, and the military draft throughout the Vietnam War created an incentive for men to enroll. The analysis by three Harvard University economists suggests the current gender enrollment gap would be larger now if it wasn't for those earlier motivations for men."

But academicians and various gender-rights advocates do not even need to debate academic preferences if they steer clear of the issue entirely.

Economic preferences for low-income students could close the gender gap. The New York Times reported last year, "Only 41 percent of low-income students entering a four-year college managed to graduate within five years, the Department of Education found in a study last year, but 66 percent of high-income students did. That gap had grown over recent years."

Disgraced as he was on another gender issue, former Harvard President Lawrence Summers had it right when he spearheaded a move to give full scholarships to its lowest-income students. According to the New York Times, Summers called the widening gap between the "children of the rich and the children of the poor ... the most serious domestic problem in the United States today."

So where do we end up? Rich boys get into expensive colleges at the same rate as rich girls. It's poor boys (white, black, or members of any other ethnic group) who don't fare as well as their female counterparts. Equalize admissions for poor students, and you close the gender gap and eliminate the need for preferences of any other type.