Skip to main content

Gender advantages in college admission

This is a companion piece to my last blogpost about enrollment gaps for men and women in US postsecondary education, and it covers another angle of that discussion.  In that post, I talked a little bit about the fact that the trend is a long one, and not a new phenomenon, and casually suggested a few reasons for it (TLDR: Higher education does better when the economy is worse, and there are more opportunities for young men without college degrees in the labor market when the economy heats up.)  It's just a theory, of course, and might be completely wrong.

What really caught my eye in the WSJ article was this section:

The gender enrollment disparity among nonprofit colleges is widest at private four-year schools, where the proportion of women during the 2020-21 school year grew to an average of 61%, a record high, Clearinghouse data show. Some of the schools extend offers to a higher percentage of male applicants, trying to get a closer balance of men and women.

“Is there a thumb on the scale for boys? Absolutely,” said Jennifer Delahunty, a college enrollment consultant who previously led the admissions offices at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore. “The question is, is that right or wrong?”

Ms. Delahunty said this kind of tacit affirmative action for boys has become “higher education’s dirty little secret,” practiced but not publicly acknowledged by many private universities where the gender balance has gone off-kilter.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re not giving this issue air and sun so that we can start to address it,” she said.

Neither is this a new idea.  In fact, this piece in the New York Times written by Ms. Delahunty says the same thing. 

But is it, you know, true?

You might be surprised.  But, when you see the data and think about it, you'll probably say, "Well, duh."  ("Duh" is what I say when I realize I should have realized something right away; your results may vary.)

Promo: If you like Higher Ed Data Stories and use it in your job, you can support the effort by buying me a coffee (or a beer, or web hosting, as the case may be) via a click here.  Public and private high school counselors should always use this site guilt-free, for free, for ever.

I've visualized data from 2019 admissions results in IPEDS, below.  For the sake of clarity, I limited this group to colleges that a) accept both men and women, b) received at least 500 applications, c) enrolled at least 100 students, d) admitted 70% of applicants or less, and e) had a ratio of applications to seats of at least 5:1.  That eliminates quite a few of the distracting outliers.

Are you ready to be surprised?  OK.  You're going to have to interact to do so.

First, scroll down in the default view.  You'll see color-coded admit rates as circles for men (teal), women (orange) and the overall rate on the left.  You'll see the gap between men and women on the right as a color-coded square.  Orange on the right indicates women are admitted at higher rates than men; teal indicates men are admitted at a higher rate; gray indicates a push, that is, a difference of less than 1.5 percentage points.  As you scroll down, I bet you'll see a lot more orange than teal.  Hmmm.

Well, let's try public universities, by selecting "Public" in the "Control" box.  Huh.  Same thing.

OK, go back to all and change that selection to "Private, not-for-profit."  Still more orange, no?  Well, damn.

We'll find it.  In the slider filter at top left, pull the right slider down to about 25%.  Well, that's interesting, isn't it?  There's more gray (mostly equal) but if there is an advantage, it seems to go to men.  If there are highly rejectives with a higher admit rate for women, they seem to be the Cal Techs and the MITs and the Carnegie Mellons of the world, places with lots of science and tech and engineering.

OK, let's get crazy. Reset everything, via the control at the bottom right, using the arrow pointing to the left that touches the line.  Then, choose private, not-for-profit, and pull that slider down to 30% or so, and choose New England and Mid-East in the region boxes.

More teal, right?  Here's your duh moment.  When the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times, and the Washington post talk about "college" what they mean is private, highly rejective colleges in the northeastern part of the country.

That's it.  Never forget it.  They're the ones who have the warped perception of reality, not you.  And yes, at those places, men often have an advantage in admissions, just like the wealthy, and the children of college-educated parents, and alumni and other connected people have advantages.

The question is, why do we still act surprised?


 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Highly Rejective Colleges

If you're not following Akil Bello on Twitter, you should be.  His timeline is filled with great insights about standardized testing, and he takes great effort to point out racism (both subtle and not-so-subtle) in higher education, all while throwing in references to the Knicks and his daughter Enid, making the experience interesting, compelling, and sometimes, fun. Recently, he created the term " highly rejective colleges " as a more apt description for what are otherwise called "highly selective colleges."  As I've said before, a college that admits 15% of applicants really has a rejections office, not an admissions office.  The term appears to have taken off on Twitter, and I hope it will stick. So I took a look at the highly rejectives (really, that's all I'm going to call them from now on) and found some interesting patterns in the data. Take a look:  The 1,132 four-year, private colleges and universities with admissions data in IPEDS are incl

Freshman Migration, 1986 to 2020

(Note: I discovered that in IPEDS, Penn State Main Campus now reports with "The Pennsylvania State University" as one system.  So when you'd look at things over time, Penn State would have data until 2018, and then The Penn....etc would show up in 2020.  I found out Penn State main campus still reports its own data on the website, so I went there, and edited the IPEDS data by hand.  So if you noticed that error, it should be corrected now, but I'm not sure what I'll do in years going forward.) Freshman migration to and from the states is always a favorite visualization of mine, both because I find it a compelling and interesting topic, and because I had a few breakthroughs with calculated variables the first time I tried to do it. If you're a loyal reader, you know what this shows: The number of freshman and their movement between the states.  And if you're a loyal viewer and you use this for your work in your business, please consider supporting the costs

Yes, your yield rate is still falling, v 2020

I started doing this post on a regular basis several years ago, in response (if I recall) to a colleague talking about their Board of Trustees Chair insisting that "all we need to do" to bring enrollment back to its former level is to get the yield rate up.   That's the equivalent of saying all you need to do is straighten your drives and cut ten putts from each round, and you'll be a great golfer.  Moreover, it's based on the assumption that a falling yield rate is based on something you're doing or not doing.  The challenge is much larger, and a lot harder to address.  It's not a switch you flip. So we've got this: A look at applications, admits, and enrolls over the last twenty years, and three key ratios that are based on those numbers: Admit rate, or the percentage of applicants offered admission; yield rate, or the percentage of those offered admission who enroll; and the lesser-known draw rate, which is calculated by dividing the yield rate by t