The gender factor in college admissions: Do men or women have an edge?

For 35 years, women have outnumbered men in American colleges.

Federal data show that female students became the majority in 1979 and for the past decade have accounted for about 57 percent of enrollment at degree-granting institutions. This gender gap holds true for many kinds of students at many kinds of schools, from part-timers in community college to full-timers in private, nonprofit colleges.

So how does the gender gap affect admissions at selective schools? Are admissions officers giving men an edge?

The Washington Post analyzed federal data for 128 colleges and universities that admitted fewer than 35 percent of applicants for the fall 2012 term.

At 16 of these schools, men and women were admitted at equal rates. That included Dartmouth College and Harvard, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Duke and Emory universities.

At 48 schools, women were admitted at a higher rate than men. The female edge was notable at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (eight percentage points), California Institute of Technology (10 points), Carnegie Mellon University (10 points) and Harvey Mudd College (24 points). At those four schools, men outnumbered women significantly.

At 64 schools, men were admitted at a higher rate. At Brown University and Amherst, Swarthmore and Pitzer colleges, the male edge was three percentage points. At Vanderbilt, Wesleyan and Tufts universities, and Davidson and Pomona colleges, it was five points. At the College of William and Mary, it was 14 points. Women outnumbered men at some of these schools, but not all. There was an even gender split among Vanderbilt and Davidson undergraduates, and men were a slight majority at Amherst.

At William and Mary, women accounted for 55 percent of undergraduates.

When asked about the gender variation in admission rates, a William and Mary spokesman cited a 2009 statement from the college’s dean of admission, Henry Broaddus.

In that statement, Broaddus acknowledged that he had been widely quoted as saying: “We are, after all, the College of William and Mary, not the College of Mary and Mary.”

Broaddus continued: “I stand by the assertion that institutions that market themselves as co-ed, and believe that the pedagogical experiences they provide rely in part on a co-ed student body, have a legitimate interest in enrolling a class that is not disproportionately male or female. On a residential campus intended to foster community among a diverse group of students that includes both men and women, this interest strikes me as entirely appropriate.”

He added that the college’s admission standards were no different for men or for women. “What I can say is that our committee admits only those it believes will be successful at William and Mary,” he said.

At George Washington University, where The Post recently observed an admissions committee at work, 55 percent of undergraduates are women. The federal data showed the admission rate for men who applied to GW for fall 2012 was two points higher than the rate for women.

A former Post education editor, Nick writes about college from the perspective of a father of three who will soon be buried in tuition bills.
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