College brochures put some of a school’s amenities front and center, but other major features of campus life are kept quiet. Dartmouth, for example, wouldn’t want its unofficial mascot, “Keggy the Keg,” to show up during an official college tour. A party culture might boost admissions but it also cuts against the administrators’ image of their school as a serious institution of higher learning.

Another of higher ed’s secret features — college as a marriage market — seems to be even more unspeakable today, even as admissions departments work hard to put together a gender-balanced class that makes it possible for students to pair off.

The recent Supreme Court decision in SFFA v. Harvard and SFFA v. UNC struck down race-based affirmative action, but schools are widely expected to continue their practice of differential admission by gender. Admissions departments practice heavy favoritism for male applicants. No one frames this preference for men as reparations for past discrimination — the college administrators say frankly that if they constructed their classes without regard for sex, they’d have too many high-achieving women and not enough men.

The result is that some schools have given an explicit gender bonus as they sum test scores, while others simply admit young men who would never set foot on campus if they had been a girl with the same scores and portfolio. In a 2006 essay for The New York Times titled “To All the Girls I’ve Rejected,” Jennifer Delahunty Britz, the dean of admissions and financial aid at Kenyon College, aired her regrets, but admitted she didn’t see much of an alternative. Enrolling too many girls can trigger a death spiral for a school — many girls don’t want to go to a school where there’s no one to date.

Seeking gender equivalence serves to promote dating and ultimately marriage, but a school’s promotion of marriage usually ends once the admission letters have been sent out. Once there’s a roughly balanced dating pool, the students are on their own. But if schools were willing to admit that part of their appeal is exposure to like-minded possible partners, they could go a little further in making campus as conducive to marriage as to future internships and jobs.

Colleges are, for the most part, sharply age-segregated. Students try to make choices about the shape of their life while primarily surrounded by their peers. Professors offer a glimpse of some possible futures, narrowly construed, but one future opportunity — children — is nearly absent on campuses. Perhaps not surprisingly, research on the declining birth rate shows that fertility rates are lower among women with college degrees than those with high school degrees.

It’s strange to be dating and discerning marriage in a milieu that is devoid of children, as college campuses are. Women sometimes tell each other to watch how a man treats a waitress or other service worker for a preview of how he’ll treat her when the initial infatuation has passed. But how much better it would be to also see how a potential partner interacts with a child, since the objective of most relationships is to ultimately let that love overflow into new life.

This past winter, I went to Yale to debate the students, making the case that they should reconfigure their lives to have more children and start having them earlier. Only a small minority objected to marriage and children tout court. Most students felt they were open to children and marriage, but they tended to leave those endeavors at the bottom of their priority list.

“I just don’t want to have kids before I’m 30,” one boy told me.

“Huh,” I responded. “If we didn’t use a base 10 number system, do you think you’d still be anchored on that number?”

He gave a rueful snort and mostly conceded the point.

It was easy for him to plan out his life according to the tidiness of round numbers, without pausing to think too much about the shape his life would take, and the upside or downside risk of moving faster or slower than his peers.

What role should donors play in shaping the values of the colleges they support?
How teen boys can bridge a gap in elder care

It’s not that I expect school admissions offices to begin offering small children the same preferential treatment that high school boys routinely receive. But schools are right to consider the composition of their class and the layout of their grounds as elements that shape their students’ experience over four or more years and the development of the students’ post-college character and careers.

But they should consider the social costs of designing schools that age-segregate students during this formative time, and envision campuses that are not, in essence, baby deserts where children are neither seen nor discussed.

Co-locating child care facilities and elementary schools on or adjacent to a college campus is a good place to start. If schools are going to require some students on financial aid to have campus jobs, they’re likely to learn more helping in a tutoring center or supervising a playground than washing dishes in a dining hall. (A good many political science majors have clearly graduated without testing their theories of self-government against a coalition of 8-year-olds.)

Career offices could stand to be a little franker about the tradeoffs of different high-intensity careers. “Do you hope to marry and have children? When? At what age? Why?” is as relevant to sorting through career paths as “What city do you want to live in?” When schools are silent on these important questions, students correctly surmise that their program thinks of children as ancillary to a good life, something to squeeze in around the margins of your professional ambitions.

During my Yale visit, the students who had thought the most about how to hold space for the children they hoped for were often the oldest siblings in larger families. When I asked them about what they looked forward to as potential parents, some talked about reading to their child, like they had read to a younger sibling.

For some of their peers, children were an abstraction, and it was hard to figure out how to weigh children against the known parts of their life and studies that they would have to trim to make space for life at home. For the students who had already glimpsed some of the pleasures of parenthood, it was easier to contrast two vivid goods.

If colleges are intended to form a whole person and prepare them for a full, humane life, care for children should be part of that education. A quad that is wholly empty of children is as poorly prepared for learning as an academic library empty of books.

Leah Libresco Sargeant is the author of “Arriving at Amen” and “Building the Benedict Option.” She runs the substack Other Feminisms, focused on the dignity of interdependence.