Sunday, March 26, 2006

Affirmative Action for the 21st Century? Say It Ain't So


I keep hearing that it's harder to get into college now than it was, say, 10 or 15 years ago. I'm not sure exactly why that is. Perhaps there are just more applicants? Perhaps the baby boomers' kids are going to school now, so demand exceeds supply? Something else?

In addition to college being harder to get into generally, apparently it's extra hard to get in if you're female. A recent NYT op-ed piece by the Dean of Admissions at Kenyon College candidly lays it out for us:
Rest assured that admissions officers are not cavalier in making their decisions. Last week, the 10 officers at my college sat around a table, 12 hours every day, deliberating the applications of hundreds of talented young men and women. While gulping down coffee and poring over statistics, we heard about a young woman from Kentucky we were not yet ready to admit outright. She was the leader/president/editor/captain/lead actress in every activity in her school. She had taken six advanced placement courses and had been selected for a prestigious state leadership program. In her free time, this whirlwind of achievement had accumulated more than 300 hours of community service in four different organizations.

Few of us sitting around the table were as talented and as directed at age 17 as this young woman. Unfortunately, her test scores and grade point average placed her in the middle of our pool. We had to have a debate before we decided to swallow the middling scores and write "admit" next to her name.

Had she been a male applicant, there would have been little, if any, hesitation to admit. The reality is that because young men are rarer, they're more valued applicants. Today, two-thirds of colleges and universities report that they get more female than male applicants, and more than 56 percent of undergraduates nationwide are women. Demographers predict that by 2009, only 42 percent of all baccalaureate degrees awarded in the United States will be given to men.

We have told today's young women that the world is their oyster; the problem is, so many of them believed us that the standards for admission to today's most selective colleges are stiffer for women than men. How's that for an unintended consequence of the women's liberation movement?
I'm surprised that gender balance has become an issue. I never thought young men would be "underrepresented" in college. In fact, I'm not convinced that a 42/58 male/female ratio is so skewed that we need to fix it by admitting "less qualified" young men.

I haven't thought about it enough, but my first reaction is that young men shouldn't benefit from affirmative action. Affirmative action is intended to rectify past discrimation (e.g., against women and minorities) and young men haven't suffered that sort of traditional discrimination. Then again, all sorts of favorable treatment are afforded to different groups and they aren't called affirmative action (i.e., you're much more likely to get in if your dad went to a certain school or if you're one of the few applicants from Wyoming or Alaska). Do we need to add men to the list of legacies and people from the boonies?

1 comment:

hh said...

the chair of my department, who is a he, joked to me last year, upon realizing that we were admitting all women into our graduate program: "wow, i guess girls are getting smarter these days." har dee har. i have to hear a lot of stupid shit sometimes. interestingly enough, he is married to a "genius"--a macarthur fellow.