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Maintaining gender balance can cause discrimination

Some colleges accept less-qualified men over qualified women

If you follow the news about college admissions, you know that more women are applying to college than men. At some campuses, only 40 percent of the applicants are male, thereby making colleges' goal of achieving gender balance even more difficult to accomplish.

Because of equal protection and Title IX laws, public colleges cannot manipulate their gender balance. However, private colleges are exempt from some admission restrictions and, in the quest to achieve gender balance, some private colleges have admitted lesser-qualified young men instead of more qualified young women.

After years of fighting for educational equality, it is disheartening to think that the college admissions' bar has been raised even higher for young women. My guess is that at some private colleges with balanced gender enrollment, women are getting the short end of the admissions stick.

Steven Greenberger, associate dean of faculty at the DePaul College of Law in Chicago, agrees. In a telephone interview, Greenberger says that he believes, to some degree, this type of discrimination is happening at small colleges. He says that colleges want to balance classes because "once the ratio tips too far in favor of women, they (the college) become unattractive to women because there aren't any men around." Greenberger says that gender balance is less of an issue on a large campus because with a large campus population, gender imbalances would be less discernible.

College admission officers dispute the idea that they are trying to balance their classes by gender, instead claiming to assemble a class with other factors in mind. "Many colleges are making little or no concerted effort to achieve gender balance," Dan Rosenfield, dean of enrollment management at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, says. He adds: "I think it's safe to say that most colleges are far more interested in concentrating efforts, which will result in increasing the number of students with high academic potential, achieving geographic and cultural diversity, attracting students with special talents and opening the doors to more low-income students."

Patricia Rossman Skrha, director of undergraduate admission at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, agrees. Rossman Skrha says that most small colleges like Baldwin-Wallace admit all qualified applicants, and she says that young women might feel college is inaccessible because of efforts to achieve gender balance.

However, others deny that they recruit men to maintain gender balance but admit that they support the ideals of a balanced class. Dr. Beth Triplett, vice president for enrollment at Maryville University in St. Louis, tells me that an unbalanced class "impacts the academic environment," and that males, if in the minority, "feel less comfortable, and have fewer peers with whom they can identify." Triplett also expresses concern for a society without college-bound or college-educated men.

Judith Kleinfeld, professor of psychology and director of the Boys Project at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, offers a slightly different perspective. Though the Boys Project aims to "educate families, educators and the public about the challenges our young boys are facing," Kleinfeld says that "reverse discrimination will not solve the problem. It creates unfortunate stereotypes of guys who are in demand and don't have to follow rules. I don't think that affirmative action for guys is the answer."

Kleinfeld suggests that if young men are indeed retreating from college, "we should do a whole lot more than we are doing in high schools to increase the skill level of guys."

There are no winners when it comes to discrimination. I hope that hardworking women are not being discriminated against in the admissions process. There are indications that young women suffer from anxiety disorders disproportionately to young men, and concerns over unfair admissions practices will only exacerbate the problem. True parity and equality between young men and women will only happen when the playing field — in this case, admission standards — is level.

Joanne Levy-Prewitt is an independent college admissions adviser who works with students in the San Francisco area. E-mail her at

© Joanne Levy-Prewitt

Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate