Single Sex Colleges: Are they right for you?

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Single Sex Colleges: Are they right for you?

Wellesley College

Wellesley College

Lisa Jenkins

Wellesley College

Lisa Jenkins

Lisa Jenkins

Wellesley College

Lisa Jenkins, Writer/News Editor

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Georgian Court University in Lakewood, New Jersey has been a women’s college since 1908. But next fall, the college is opening its doors to men.

This institution is following a growing trend among women’s colleges in the nation, as many have chosen to go coed in the past few decades. Today, only two percent of female college graduates attended a women’s college, with the national enrollment dropping. And since 1960, the number of women’s colleges in America has been cut in half.

Why do so many high school graduates choose to forgo receiving a single-sex education? The reasons are varied. Some don’t want to have to deal with “cattiness” or drama. Others have enjoyed having male friends, and could not imagine interacting exclusively with girls. The classroom would also be dramatically different, as there would be no male perspectives to add to the discussions. There seems to be a never-ending list of disadvantages.

Senior Grace Johnson-DeBaufre’s top choice, however, is Smith College, one of the original “Seven Sisters” colleges. She said that she “always grew up around a lot of strong, confident, independent women, so [she] just automatically wanted to go to a school environment that was predominantly female.”

But almost ironically, at most campuses today, female majorities are the norm.

A quick search of the college statistics on the US News and World Report website continually brings up undergraduate populations hovering around 60% women and 40% men in many top schools. Overall, in America, women are earning more Bachelor’s Degrees, obtaining higher GPAs, and receiving more honors than men. So why the need for women’s colleges when female students are doing so well at the national level? The Madison Dodger Online decided to talk to teachers who graduated from women’s colleges to share their opinions and experiences.

Ms. Klurfield, the assistant librarian and media specialist at Madison High School, is in the unique position of having attended women’s institutions for most of her educational career. After a childhood of all-girls’ schools, Ms. Klurfield decided to attend Barnard College, a Seven Sisters college affiliated with Columbia University.

The Seven Sisters were founded in the decades following the Civil War in response to the poor quality of education available to women. Women’s colleges did exist before the Seven Sisters were established, but the courses offered at these prestigious schools were meant to closely parallel the education received at prestigious male institutions. Today, Barnard continues its strong tradition of rigorous academic programs.

“Most of the Seven Sister schools are really selective, and you get people that are really serious about what they’re doing,” Ms. Klurfield remarked. She added that going to a women’s college allows a student to pursue various areas of interest and take on new, difficult projects without fear of being laughed at or put down. The atmosphere at the Seven Sister schools, and all women’s colleges, seems to facilitate inquisitiveness by letting women explore their favorite topics while still branching out.

Ms. Gabel is an English teacher at MHS, but she was inspired to take an advanced statistics course while enrolled at the College of Saint Elizabeth. It was something she never considered doing in high school, and was greatly out of character for her. But the confidence she received as a result of a Saint Elizabeth education pushed her to explore areas outside her comfort zone. This academic risk-taking is not uncommon at women’s colleges. But to what extent are these strong characteristics results of the colleges’ influence? These colleges may simply attract confident women, rather than create them.

All of the teachers interviewed agreed that it was a bit of both. But all offered examples of the feelings generated by these environments. For example, Ms. Monkemeier, a biology teacher and graduate of Douglass College, has a daughter who attends the College of Saint Elizabeth. Ms. Monkemeier shared that her daughter “tended to be less confident, but once she was there [at Saint E’s], she’s doing things that she would never have been encouraged to do in a coed school. They’re sending her to honors conferences and they’re empowering her and giving her more confidence than she had going in.”

But why is it important for a woman to feel “empowered”? It may have to do with American society today. In Congress, men outnumber women nearly five to one. And Ms. Gabel pointed out the fact that women are still earning less to the dollar as compared to men. Ms. Monkemeier notices the disparity, and feels that “as women gain more of a foothold in the workforce… less of that empowerment will be needed.”

Women are significantly underrepresented in a number of fields, especially under the classification STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Even though there are, on average, three female undergraduates to every two male undergraduates, Ms. Monkemeier is concerned by the fact that there is still a considerable gap between men and women in certain fields. She commented that one of her daughters who graduated from TCNJ was one of eighty-two law students in her graduate school. But of these eighty-two students, only about twenty percent were women.

Ms. Monkemeier is, of course, a science major, but she did not say that Douglass College stressed science more than any other subject. Instead, the college worked to bring in speakers from a variety of fields, and attempted to show that being a woman is not a barrier. Recently, other women’s colleges like Saint Elizabeth’s have worked hard to boost their science programs and actively recruit science majors. This push may be one of the reasons why a women’s college student is twice as likely to major in a STEM field as a woman at a coed college. It may be difficult for a woman to immerse herself in classes where most of the students are men, and major in fields that are obviously male-dominated.

And it is true that boys and girls learn differently. Ms. Gabel has noticed definite differences in her classroom, noting that boys are more hands-on, and thrive in competitive environments. Girls are more collaborative, and are generally quieter. This is a definite disadvantage for the more timid. But, in a girls’ school, women are forced to be more vocal, and have no excuse to sit back. The absence of men from the classroom also removes all unnecessary distractions, and a student is able to just focus on her work when there is no pressure to look or dress a certain way.

This being said, many people take issue with the fact that removing men homogenizes the classroom. Sometimes it’s healthy to have a differing view or opinion. Are women sacrificing diversity by attending single-sex colleges? Ms. Gabel would disagree. Saint Elizabeth’s hosted students from all over the world.

But how will all this help women after they leave their schools? Women’s colleges boast a wealth of influential and successful alumni. Ms. Klurfield referenced the likes of Hillary Clinton, Madeline Albright, and Gloria Steinem. These powerful alumni contribute to a great network of women who are always willing to help out the students. This could be in the form of internships or job opportunities. Ms. Gabel, for instance, has mentored women who want to go into teaching, and has allowed Saint Elizabeth students to shadow her at work.

But all of this aside, the social aspect of a women’s college experience is usually the deal-breaker for high school students. Many want the opportunity to date and meet new people, but a purely female pool severely limits options. Ms. Klurfield takes the opposite stance, though, and holds that this can force women to be more social. She said that, “If you go to a coed school, you’re going to be dating the guys at that school, while if you’re at an all-girls school, you’ve got the whole world.” But others may simply prefer to stay on campus and interact with friends. Ms. Gabel, who always had a mix of male and female friends growing up, described her love of the sisterhood that developed in the college.

But could women’s colleges actually be perpetuating the problem of gender inequality? Some have accused the separation of men and women as being a “band-aid” solution for deeper societal issues affecting American culture. Others argue that the entire idea of a women’s college is hypocritical. Feminists rally against nondiscrimination, but laud institutions that exclude half the population. In the 1980s, one man actually sued to be admitted to a public, all-women’s nursing school, and the court ruled that public institutions could not discriminate on the basis of gender.

But as Ms. Monkemeier suggested, women’s colleges may be necessary so long as there is still some gap between the genders. And though the gap is no longer as wide, statistics show that there is still a rift.

High school students are usually very opinionated when it comes to the merits of a single-sex education. But if these teachers are any indication, a women’s college experience stays with a student forever.



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