Affirmative action for boys

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(Host) As most parents who have a senior in high school know, it’s college application time. Commentator Cheryl Hanna is here to discuss a trend in the admissions process that has far reaching

(Hanna) This year, even though a record number of students are applying to college, there’s one subset of the population that’s losing ground. Admissions directors nationwide are whispering that it may soon be time to apply a little affirmative action in an attempt to lure more men – yes, men – to higher education.

You see, women outnumber men in college classrooms throughout the nation. Today, girls graduating high school are 16% more likely to go to college than their male classmates. And it’s not just an American trend. Women now make up more than 54% of college students in Canada, Australia and Britain as well. Here in Vermont, women are the majority at UVM, Middlebury, and other institutions across the state.

Men still dominate in fields like engineering and physics, but the majority of applications to law and medical schools are now women. It’s a trend experts say is likely to continue unless something’s done.

So why this feminization of education? It’s complicated. Some blame it on the primary education system, suggesting that in the past two decades, with all the attention on girls, boys have fallen behind. Others say it’s the lack of strong male role models in the lives of too many young boys. Still another explanation is that a man without a college degree can still earn more than a woman without one and thus may be bypassing the college classroom on his way to becoming – for instance – the next Bill Gates, who never did graduate from college.

Educators are studying the issue, but in the meantime,what are colleges to do?Earlier this year, this Supreme Court upheld the right of public institutions to consider race when admitting students. It’s affirmative action with a small “A.” So long as they don’t rely on quotas or a numerical point system, colleges can strive to have a diverse class of students as a way to enrich education.

The same logic arguably applies to gender. Colleges can try to admit more men when their numbers drop off, even if that means some otherwise qualified women will be denied admission. Affirmative sction isn’t an ideal solution – it’s better if we can ensure all kids have a fair chance at achieving their potential. But if the trend continues to the extent that women significantly outnumber men – for reasons that have nothing to do with intelligence or ambition – then we may have to adjust at the college level, just as we do when it comes to race and ethnicity.

In the long run, we all benefit because gender inequity, whenever it happens, is no reason to celebrate.

This is Cheryl Hanna.

Cheryl Hanna is a professor at Vermont Law School in South Royalton.

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