Selective college admissions and the gender gap
Suggs, David Welch
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Women have been the majority gender in American undergraduate college populations for more than 30 years. In 2004-5, they represented 56 percent of the 5.1 million undergraduates aged 25 and under. However, the nation’s elite institutions have enrollments that are much closer to an even split by gender. As such, a debate has begun on whether elite colleges are favoring men in the admissions process to keep their student populations from skewing “too far” female. This has been a contentious topic in popular periodicals, but has not been addressed specifically in the scholarly literature. This dissertation discusses how colleges perceive and address the “gender gap” in enrollments. Following an institutionalist framework, colleges make decisions in an attempt to fit a particular paradigm image held by current and potential resource providers, and part of that image is having a balanced student population with roughly equivalent numbers of male and female students. Institutions with such balance are thought to be appealing both to male and female potential students—if there are too many women, then the college may be unattractive to students of either gender, thus threatening the flow of tuition revenue and donations from displaced alumni. I begin with the following hypothesis: To the extent they are able, colleges attempt to balance their incoming classes between male and female students. To set the context, I provide a descriptive analysis of two national datasets to evaluate the evidence for a “gender gap” in college enrollment and admissions. Next, I test the hypothesis using a quantitative model evaluating whether the gender of a student offers an advantage in competitive college admissions Finally, I conclude with a short set of qualitative interviews discussing the issue with deans of selective colleges. This analysis finds strong evidence of a gender gap over all in college admissions, and it also finds that being male offers a statistically significant advantage in admissions at elite institutions, all other factors being equal. This suggests a number of theoretical and practical considerations for both scholars and policymakers in higher education.