If you read The Atlantic, you might have seen its recent article on “The End of Men.” It’s available on line here. (Thanks to Professor Kay Brimijoin, who was the first person to point it out to me.)
I mention it not because I agree with all of its arguments or conclusions, but because some of the data it cites raises a very important and challenging question for women’s colleges. Here’s one salient quote:
“Women now earn 60 percent of master’s degrees, about half of all law and medical degrees, and 42 percent of all M.B.A.s. Most important, women earn almost 60 percent of all bachelor’s degrees—the minimum requirement, in most cases, for an affluent life. In a stark reversal since the 1970s, men are now more likely than women to hold only a high-school diploma.”
The question is an obvious one. If women (most of whom attend co-ed colleges) are outperforming men in the academic sphere, what is the rationale for single-sex education for women?
I’m thinking about this a lot — and it’s far too complex a topic to address in a quick blog post! But my thinking starts here: the question assumes that the rationale for women’s institutions is to redress formerly-denied opportunities. If those opportunities are now readily available, the rationale no longer holds.
Redress may well in fact have been the foundational rationale for many women’s institutions. (Or, for that matter, for HBCUs, tribal colleges, or other institutions founded to serve underserved populations.) But I would certainly not say that redress is the primary rationale for women’s institutions today.
Our rationale, here at Sweet Briar, is quite simply that education on a women’s campus provides the greatest opportunity for each individual student to maximize her potential. Sure, women have lots of opportunities in coeducational settings, and sure, women are outperforming men academic according to a number of measures. But for an individual woman to pursue her education in an environment entirely dedicated to her success, as she defines it: that remains a rare and valuable benefit, and a powerful rationale for single sex institutions for women.
I also refuse to believe that academic success for one gender comes, inevitably, at the expense of the other. Has women’s success in the academy “pushed out” success for men? I don’t think so. And yet, of course, society will be stronger if men and women both achieve the highest possible level of education.
Hence the fascinating question posed by the article: are we now, nationally, in need of educational programs providing educational redress for men?