Many Colleges Reject Women at Higher Rates Than for Men
Colleges, meanwhile, contend that their schools are best served by keeping things balanced. "I don't think that's an issue of equity; it's an issue of institutional prerogative [to create] a community that will best serve both the men and the women who elect to be members of that community," says Henry Broaddus, director of admission at William and Mary. "Even women who enroll...expect to see men on campus. It's not the College of Mary and Mary; it's the College of William and Mary."
Indeed, says sophomore Carrie Bruner, it's important to have men on campus in and outside of the classroom.
"Males have perspectives to offer that a woman doesn't have," she says. She also says that she and her female classmates do sometimes joke about a shortage of men to take to dances. And indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests that once a campus reaches, say, a 60-to-40 split in favor of either gender, the college becomes less attractive to applicants of both sexes. "Frankly, students care about the dating scene on campus, and no one wants to be outnumbered," says Bari Norman, a former admissions counselor at Barnard College who now runs mycollegecounselor.com.
Some traditionally male-dominated schools are relishing the influx of women. Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., went coed in 1970 and has tried to attract women ever since, a challenge because one of the college's strengths is its engineering program, a discipline in which women have been historically underrepresented. As the school approached and finally reached gender parity in 2000, its applications from both girls and boys soared.
Nationwide, the picture is more nuanced than the William and Mary and Richmond examples. Women are not excluded en masse from higher education. In fact, they do fill the majority of seats there. And since most colleges are "open admission," meaning that they admit all or nearly all qualified applicants, women have a better overall admissions rate than men. "At the national level, are we looking at a system that is excluding capable women from higher education? And the answer to that is clearly no," says Broaddus. "Even though there is a lot of focus on the highly selective places, there are still ample higher education opportunities available to qualified students."
It is difficult to gauge how much impact a college's overall desire to maintain a balanced student body has on the decision to accept or reject any particular applicant. Schools are often loath to discuss the specifics of their selection process, and they're especially sensitive when it comes to issues of preferential treatment for one group of students at the expense of another. While the Supreme Court did weigh in on the issue of affirmative action for minority studentsendorsing in a 5-to-4 decision the use of race as one of many elements in admissionsit has not directly addressed gender targeting in admissions.
The law in this area is decidedly opaque and sometimes seemingly contradictory. There have been several rulings that largely have focused on race, from which admissions officers and education experts intuit what the law on the use of gender might be. In 2001, a federal appeals court barred the University of Georgia from using gender and race considerations to increase the percentage of black men in its undergraduate freshman class. The courts found that the plaintiffs, three white female students who had been denied admission, had been discriminated against under the Title vi and Title ix statutes requiring race and gender equity. In addition, ballot initiatives underway in several statesand one just passed in Michiganprevent gender and race from being used in the admissions process. While aimed at ending affirmative action, the language on gender could impact colleges' ability to engineer a gender balance in their entering classes.