The AAUW's Rationale

April 28, 2011

Once again, Richard Whitmire believes that he has the inside scoop on the American Association of University Women and other groups that won't join him in crying wolf on gender discrimination in college admissions. Apparently, we're keeping mum to keep our jobs or, as Whitmire puts it, "If women dominate colleges, what's the point of having an AAUW?"

Color us unimpressed with this attempt at mind reading. AAUW would be the first organization to turn off the lights, lock the doors, and throw a rockin' party if women and girls ever achieved true equity in education and the workforce. And while we celebrate the many gains that women and girls have made in education in recent decades, we also know that not all girls and boys are well served by our schools -- a fact that drives our work. These positions are not contradictory.

But are colleges really discriminating in their admissions processes? The numbers say no. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 2003 and 2008 women were admitted to college at a rate that is, on average, two percentage points higher than that for men.

These facts don't look anything like an admissions-gap crisis to us, in part because, despite the fact that women now make up roughly 50 percent of the workforce, men continue to outearn them. Of course, AAUW's ambivalence toward the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights' study on gender and college admissions goes much deeper than any statistic or priority list. Whitmire notes that some have questioned the intentions of this study, calling it a possible Title IX Trojan horse. On this we can agree.

That horse is filled with assumptions about what might cause this imaginary bias in college admissions. Title IX naysayers, who supported the study proposed by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, believe college men aren't given enough athletic opportunities. Their crabbed logic goes like this: the potential study's results would support changing the rules governing Title IX in athletics. Then colleges could justify having more sports programs for men, who would presumably be lining up at the gate to take calculus just so they could play basketball. And women haven't proven they like sports, so fewer of them might apply and, therefore, fewer sports opportunities would be needed. Or something like that. Confused? So are we.

Some key facts from AAUW's report "Where the Girls Are: The Facts about Gender Equity in Education" also fly in the face of Whitmire's gloom and doom. A gender gap in college attendance is quite small among those entering college right out of high school, somewhere around half a percent. Yes, women have made more rapid gains than men in earning college degrees, but the disparity in demographics comes in later, among the older cohort of students, where women outnumber men by a ratio of almost two to one.

We wouldn't be the American Association of University Women if we weren't interested in college issues. That's why we continue to fight for college students and athletes alike and the protections afforded to them by Title IX, as well as to provide women with leadership programs to help them exceed during and after college. Sexism doesn't end once women get into college, and a college degree does not guarantee a discrimination-free career. As long as campuses and workplaces fall short of equity, AAUW will be there to cry foul -- and to do something about it.


Lisa M. Maatz is director of public policy and government relations at the American Association of University Women.

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