The U.S. Civil Rights Commission (yes, it's still around and yes, it's outlived its usefulness) is about to subtract from national wisdom about college admissions by focusing on exactly the wrong problem.
The commission has undertaken an inquiry to determine whether colleges may be discriminating against female applicants. The question turns on whether admissions officers, in an attempt to maintain rough gender parity on campuses, are putting a thumb on the scale in favor of underrepresented male applicants, thus disadvantaging the more qualified females.
That this is happening -- though it theoretically violates the law for public institutions -- is an open secret. Women now earn 62 percent of associate degrees, 58 percent of bachelor's degrees, and 60 percent of master's degrees. Women's dominance in higher education would be even more pronounced if colleges were truly gender blind in admissions. But they are not. Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania admitted 19 percent of male applicants last year but only 14 percent of females. The College of William and Mary, a public college in Virginia, admitted 43 percent of its male applicants and 29 percent of its female applicants last year. Administrators worry that a severe imbalance of women to men will make the campus less desirable for all applicants. Director of Admissions Henry Broaddus told US News and World Report, "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."
US News estimates that most of the 1,400 colleges that participate in its annual survey are offering more favorable admissions standards to male than female applicants. Boys now need the extra help.
So we seem to have a problem here. For every 100 women who earn a college degree, only 73 men do. These statistics practically shout "boy crisis." Yet the Civil Rights Commission apparently sees the problem as one of discrimination.
Let's suppose the commission finds the discrimination it is seeking (which won't be hard). And let's imagine that they issue a blistering report exhorting Congress and the nation to remedy this injustice. Will women be happier at campuses in which men comprise only 35 or 40 percent of the student population? Will our society be better off with women outpacing men in education and income? Or might it be better to address the flagging achievement of boys in our school system?
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