Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

International Importance of Women's Colleges Explored

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

International Importance of Women's Colleges Explored

Article excerpt

International Importance of Women's Colleges Explored

In the 19th century when mens institutions of higher education universally barred women, the purpose of womens colleges was clear: many opened to offer young women opportunities to further their educations they would not have otherwise.

Womens colleges continued to serve useful purposes even with the rise of coeducational institutions in the first half of the 20th century, but in more recent times, the number of such colleges has dwindled in this country and elsewhere across North America and Europe.

As some educators have questioned the need for their continued existence at all, Kristen A. Renn, a Michigan State University professor, roamed campuses around the world to answer two basic questions about the role and the relevancy of womens colleges today: Why would someone with other options choose a womens institution? What are womens colleges and universities for in the 21st century?

Indeed, the vast majority of women today attend coeducational institutions when that option is available to them. However, in many parts of the world, that is not an option for women constricted by cultural or religious norms. For them, womens colleges offer the only avenue for access to higher education.

"In places where single-sex or gendersegregated universities are the only feasible option for women seeking postsecondary education, they are critical in providing access," Renn writes in Womens Colleges and Universities in a Global Context (Johns Hopkins University Press). "But where women have equal access to higher education, where women outnumber men in college or where coeducation is so prevalent that few young women even consider attending a womens college, the purpose of single-sex institutions is more difficult to discern."

Renn is a professor of higher, adult, and lifelong education at Michigan State University. She is also a graduate of Mount Holyoke College, one of the oldest womens colleges in the world, and credits her experience there with igniting her interest in studying higher education issues, specifically the education of women.

Renn studied 13 womens institutions in 10 countries (Australia, Canada, China, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom) spread over five continents: Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North America. She conducted research to select them and visited the campuses to interview administrators, faculty and students.

Womens Colleges and Universities is one of the first to offer a comprehensive comparative analysis of womens higher education institutions globally.

Renn provides an overview of each college or university (using pseudonyms incorporating the location and type of institution) and describes the roles that each plays within its own country and then draws on her findings to make some observations and conclusions. …

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