Gender Bias in College Admissions

The Christian Science Monitor, July 24, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Gender Bias in College Admissions


Inside the ivied halls of higher education, a quiet courtship is taking place. The suitors are admissions directors who seek out qualified males. With women outnumbering men on many campuses, schools use gender bias to adjust a gender imbalance.

Some institutions entice men by adding engineering programs or football teams. Others seek out high school boys who take early college-entrance exams. Many make sure that admissions staff include men.

When researchers at US News & World Report magazine analyzed data from more than 1,400 four-year colleges and universities, they found that in the past decade, many schools had maintained gender balance by admitting many more men than women, even when the women candidates were more qualified.

Historically, the gender pendulum in higher education has swung back and forth. From 1900 to 1930, ratios were about equal. After World War II, the GI Bill benefited veterans, and men enrolled in greater numbers. By the early 1980s, women and men enjoyed rough parity. Now women account for nearly 58 percent of the 16.6 million college students. In three years, the ratio is projected to be around 60 to 40.

Admissions directors cite several reasons for wanting to keep the numbers as equal as possible. Balance makes social life easier. It also helps schools attract the best candidates of both sexes: When the gender balance tilts to a 60-40 ratio, favoring either gender, students are less interested in attending.

Yet maintaining gender balance by turning down well-qualified women to make room for men with less impressive qualifications has some critics crying foul. They want admissions offices to follow market forces. They argue that gender favoritism should not be part of admission practices at public colleges, which receive government funding.

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