By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 16, 2009; 2:16 PM
Federal civil rights commissioners voted Wednesday to subpoena 19 Washington area colleges in an investigation of whether higher education institutions discriminate against women in admissions.
The slate of schools, which includes Georgetown University in the District and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, was selected as a representative sample of higher education nationally. All lie within 100 miles of Washington.
The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is investigating whether some colleges favor men by admitting them at higher rates than women or offering them more generous aid packages.
Women, once under-represented on campus, now outnumber men nearly 60-40 in higher education nationally, chiefly because men are more likely to drop out of school or to go into the military or prison.
Anecdotal evidence suggests some schools, particularly selective liberal arts colleges, purposefully admit men at a higher rate to balance the gender mix on campus. The most prominent local example is the College of William and Mary in Virginia, which admitted 43 percent of male applicants and 29 percent of female applicants in fall 2008. Women apply to William and Mary in far greater numbers than men.
William and Mary is outside the 100-mile radius of the investigation.
Civil rights commissioners Wednesday approved 19 other schools for study, based on broad institutional categories: four historically black institutions, Howard University, Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, Virginia Union University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore; three religious schools, Catholic University in the District, Loyola University in Maryland and Messiah College in Pennsylvania; three "highly selective" schools, Georgetown, Hopkins and Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania; one "very selective" school, the University of Richmond; four "moderately selective" private colleges, York College in Pennsylvania, Goucher College in Baltimore, Goldey-Beacom College in Delaware and Washington College in Chestertown, Md.; and four moderately selective publics, Shepherd University in West Virginia, Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, the University of Delaware and the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
A recent, informal analysis by The Washington Post of admission data from a dozen colleges in the region found seven schools that had admitted women at a lower rate than men in the past two years, four that had admitted men at a lower rate, and one that had admitted women at a higher rate one year, but men in the other.
One school reviewed by The Post, the University of Richmond, admitted women at a significantly lower rate in recent years and has been singled out in media accounts for possible favoritism based on sex. By 2009, however, the school had reversed the trend, admitting men at a slightly lower rate than women.
"What we're trying to do is craft the best incoming class we can," said Gil Villanueva, vice president and dean of admission.