The U.S. Air Force Academy has lost 25 percent of the freshmen women in two of its last three classes, an attrition rate at least double that of Annapolis and West Point.
Academy officials are uncertain whether there is any link between the high dropout rate and the widespread complaints of sexual harassment that have recently swirled around the school in Colorado Springs.However, Gen. Bradley C. Hosmer, the academy's superintendent, told the school's board of visitors at the group's annual meeting in Washington last week that female cadets may be leaving the school at higher rates due to the "pressures and tensions" of integrating women into a traditionally male environment.
The superintendent told the board - made up of 15 presidential and congressional appointees - that his staff would try to come up with a more detailed explanation.
"There must be some reason. We have to look into it more," said one board member, Rep. Norman Dicks, D-Wash., who last week was told of the attrition rates by The Baltimore Sun. "I'm not satisfied with 25 percent."
As a result of cadet losses, the academy will bring in one of its largest freshman classes in recent memory, some 1,400 cadets, with 15 percent to 16 percent women. The school generally has a freshman class of 1200 with 12 percent to 14 percent women, said academy officials.
Women make up about 13 percent of the estimated 4,000 cadets at Air Force, roughly the same numbers as the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy. All three schools started accepting women in 1976.
But recently the similarities in numbers of women among Air Force and the other schools has ended.
This school year, 46 women resigned from Air Force's freshman class, 24.9 percent of the class. At the same time, only 18 women or 13 percent of those freshmen dropped out of the U.S. Military Academy and 20 or 12 percent of freshmen women left the Naval Academy.
Last year, West Point and Annapolis had higher rates of attrition for women than the Air Force Academy. But two years ago, Air Force again had 25 percent, double the rate at Annapolis and triple that of West Point.
The issue of sexual harassment surfaced in February 1993 when a freshman woman was sexually assaulted by three young men outside the school's gymnasium. The case has not been solved.