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?



Popular posts from this blog

Baccalaureate origins of doctoral recipients

Here's a little data for you: 61 years of it, to be precise.  The National Science Foundation publishes its data on US doctoral recipients sliced a variety of ways, including some non-restricted public use files that are aggregated at a high level to protect privacy. The interface is a little quirky, and if you're doing large sets, you need to break it into pieces (this was three extracts of about 20 years each), but it may be worth your time to dive in. I merged the data set with my mega table of IPEDS data, which allows you to look at institutions on a more granular level:  It's not surprising to find that University of Washington graduates have earned more degrees than graduates of Whitman College, for instance.  So, you can filter the data by Carnegie type, region or state, or control, for instance; or you can look at all 61 years, or any range of years between 1958 and 2018 and combine it with broad or specific academic fields using the controls. High school and indep

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

So you think you're going back to the SAT and ACT?

Now that almost every university in the nation has gone test-optional for the 2021 cycle out of necessity, a nagging question remains: How many will go back to requiring tests as soon as it's possible?  No one knows, but some of the announcements some colleges made sounded like the kid who only ate his green beans to get his screen time: They did it, but they sure were not happy about it.  So we have some suspicions about the usual suspects. I don't object to colleges requiring tests, of course, even though I think they're not very helpful, intrinsically biased against certain groups, and a tool of the vain.  You be you, though, and don't let me stop you. However, there is a wild card in all of this: The recent court ruling prohibiting the University of California system from even using--let alone requiring--the SAT or ACT in admissions decisions next fall.  If you remember, the Cal State system had already decided to go test blind, and of course community colleges in