Monday, January 25, 2010

Shifting demographics on campus

This trend has been percolating for years, and is widening. In 2005, women outnumbered men on college campuses 57%-43%. In 2009, the numbers approached something close to 60%-40%. This brings up some interesting questions, and some controversial practices. In an effort to balance gender representation at some schools, the acceptance rate for men is often much higher than for women (because there are far more female applicants; ergo, in order to achieve some balance, the rate of acceptance for men is higher). I don't quite know what the think about this-- the reasons for this marked shift over the last several decades, or the institutions' role in achieving gender balance.

Some schools (especially elite ones) have come under fire for this balancing, because in effect, it makes it harder for a woman to go to an elite college, since the acceptance rate is lower. That isn't to say that less-qualified men are being selected-- at the most selective schools, the vast majority of rejected students are qualified, and the total number or women is higher.

Should this be something higher education should be worried about, or should we be celebrating? At what point does the gender gap matter-- 75/25? 80/20? Does this say something about K-12 education? How do we discuss this without resorting to dangerous gender stereotypes? What effect do unbalanced gender constituencies have on the creation of learning communities within higher education? Is there any way for an institution to address this without engaging in activity that would make most of us uncomfortable?

I am not sure what to make of all this, but if this trend continues, it will be something that we have to contend with in the years to come. What sayeth the blogosphere?