Colleges see male-to-female ratio drop

by Alice Gomstyn | 10/31/00 6:00am

Male affirmative action.

To many, this seems an unthinkable concept -- an oxymoron, of sorts -- but some college administrators will tell you that the idea of male affirmative action is not as outrageous as it initially appears.

Though Dartmouth continues to maintain a relative gender balance, many institutions of higher education face the problem of a dwindling male-female student ratio, leading them to consider such corrective approaches as male affirmative action.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the proportion of bachelor's degrees awarded to men has dropped considerably during the past three decades, from nearly 57 percent in 1970 to a projected 43.7 percent this year.

The Chronicle for Higher Education reports that gender gaps in college populations exist nationwide, with Utah being the only state in the union to have more men than women enrolled in its colleges and universities.

The academic community has not reached a general consensus on the cause of this phenomenon. Explanations range from an increase of more female-friendly occupations to a decrease of male role models. The Brown Daily Herald reports that at small, liberal arts schools, the gender discrepancy is sometimes attributed to a lack of emphasis on traditionally male-dominated fields of study, such as engineering and physical sciences.

Most of the Ivies remain untouched by the general trend toward female student majorities. Brown University stands as the only exception, with undergraduate females edging out their male peers by 3.6 percent.

Dartmouth's gender ratios have remained fairly constant during the past few years. Although the number of female undergraduates experienced a steady increase since the College became coeducational in 1977, the last five incoming classes have all had slight -- between 51 and 52 percent -- male majorities, according to Maria Laskaris, director of Admissions.

Laskaris expressed doubt that the College will be going the way of Brown and other schools throughout the nation. "I don't see any evidence right now that the [gender] balance is going to shift," she said.

Laskaris also explained that the nearly equal number of men and women at Dartmouth is not due to any significant effort put forth by the College and that gender is not a major factor in determining which students are offered acceptance into each incoming class.

"[The equal ratio] really happens by itself," she said. "We're not admitting a student because he is a male or she is a female."

Some colleges are considering giving men preferences in admissions. The prospect of male affirmative action was discussed this past October at the annual meeting of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

The University of Georgia actually maintained an admissions policy favoring males until last summer, when a woman sued the school, claiming that her rejection from the university was based partly on her sex.

According to Laskaris, Dartmouth -- with its relatively balanced student body -- will probably not be instituting any form of male affirmative action in the foreseeable future. She admitted, however, that her prediction is not ironclad.

"It's not an issue at the moment," she said, "but certainly that can change."

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