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March 24, 2006

Let A Thousand Vassars Bloom

This strikes me as self-evidently false.

The elephant that looms large in the middle of the room is the importance of gender balance. Should it trump the qualifications of talented young female applicants? At those colleges that have reached what the experts call a "tipping point," where 60 percent or more of their enrolled students are female, you'll hear a hint of desperation in the voices of admissions officers.

Beyond the availability of dance partners for the winter formal, gender balance matters in ways both large and small on a residential college campus. Once you become decidedly female in enrollment, fewer males and, as it turns out, fewer females find your campus attractive.

Colleges that are 60 percent female are obviously not proportionately less attractive to male and female applicants. I know that girls are less likely to attend them, but the guys I've known have a fairly high likelihood of slapping out a high-five and sending off that application, the exception being colleges that are traditionally female, which is a different can of worms. Assuming that the case, once colleges do hit the 60 percent female threshold and become less attractive to various applicants, you'd think that the market forces of fewer females applying but more guys attending would bring it back into balance. Moreover, since women are better applicants, if the college starts attracting lower quality students, more men will, by definition, be in that group. It's not clear why pro-male affirmative action would be needed at all.

And Lindsay has more.

March 24, 2006 | Permalink

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Comments

Thanks for the link.

Posted by: Lindsay Beyerstein | Mar 24, 2006 1:27:01 PM

The problem that I see isn't that there are too many girls per se. The problem I see is why there are not more boys. What is happening in our elementary and secondary education that seems to be turning many males away from persueing a college degree. That is an important question.

I don't think we need affirmative action, but perhaps a new look at how we conduct education, and a realization that gender differences, especially during childhood and adolesence, may require different techniques for each gender.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Mar 24, 2006 2:04:38 PM

Dave- The reason boys will decide against college is that there's options for them to proceed directly to a career that at least have the potential for a secure middle class life. There are a lot of blue collar professions that are either actively hostile to women entering (A surprising number of union trades, unfortunately), or that women won't be guided to by counselors even if the display an aptitude for them. So while boys who dislike academics can to some extent and pursue this other path, very few women ever get the chance.

Posted by: Moleman | Mar 24, 2006 3:25:13 PM

"To some extent drop out of scholarly pursuits" Bloody hell.

Posted by: Moleman | Mar 24, 2006 3:26:43 PM

Moleman is right. We need more women plumbers and electricians. We have had six years of Bush, and I think for those six, real wages have been declining for recent college graduates. With the loans needed, it just ain't worthwhile to get educated.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Mar 24, 2006 3:33:40 PM

Vassar is consistently ranked in the top 20 colleges nationwide; being a former girls' school doesn't seem to have hurt its rep all that much.

FWI, when I attended Vassar some years back, the balance was about 60/40 female/male. I know they were working to get the gender balance closer to 50/50 but i am not sure if that attempt ever succeeded.

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Posted by: peterwei | Oct 22, 2007 12:54:40 AM

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