Mar 16, 2011

Civil Rights Commission Suspends Investigation into Discrimination in College Admissions

Education Week is reporting that the US Commission on Civil Rights quietly suspended an investigation begun into the possibility that some colleges may be discriminating against female applicants in college admissions.

Begun in 2009, the inquiry was initiated based on suggestions that colleges struggling to maintain male/female balance on campus might show preference to their male applicants in ways that are unfair to women.

According to Richard Whitmire, “disputes over the data” as well as conflicts over which colleges should be included and questions whether the study was too limited by only investigating schools within 100 miles of Washington DC led to the decision to shelve the inquiry.

But not all the Commissioners agreed. Commission member Gail Heriot, a law professor from the University of San Diego objected to concerns over data collection problems. “There are always difficulties in getting facts. And if this [investigation] is canceled when it is almost done on that basis, then we had better cancel every project we are ever going to do and might as well go home.”

And some of the colleges appeared not to be cooperating. As of last August, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that four of the 19 institutions under investigation had not yet complied with a subpoena requesting admissions data. Those included Georgetown University, Gettysburg College, Johns Hopkins, and Messiah College.

It’s no secret that women account for a disproportionate share of applicants and enrollments at most postsecondary institutions. According to numbers collected and published by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the national applicant pool breaks down about 60/40 in favor of women and women account for about 57 percent of total undergraduate enrollment.

Although the US Civil Rights Commission appears to be having problems “collecting” data, a simple review of information readily available from NCES suggests that local colleges are “all over the place” in their male/female admissions for last year. Some seemed to favor male applicants, some favored female, and some were careful to admit precisely the same percent of each.

While the numbers don’t speak to relative qualifications of male/female applicants, here are a few statistics culled from College Navigator:
  • American University: 6830 male applicants (41% admitted) vs. 10,096 female applicants (45% admitted)

  • College of William & Mary: 4653 male applicants (39% admitted) vs. 7884 female applicants (27% admitted)

  • George Mason University: 7882 male applicants (52% admitted) vs. 9347 female applicants (51% admitted

  • George Washington University: 8326 male applicants (41% admitted) vs. 11,516 female applicants (34% admitted)

  • Georgetown University: 8008 male applicants (20% admitted) vs. 10,608 female applicants (20% admitted)

  • Goucher College: 1154 male applicants (67% admitted) vs. 2497 female applicants (76% admitted)

  • Johns Hopkins University: 9696 male applicants (22% admitted) vs. 9039 female applicants (22% admitted)

  • St. Mary’s College of Maryland: 885 male applicants (60% admitted) vs. 1528 female applicants (55% admitted)

  • Towson University: 5832 male applicants (51% admitted) vs. 9872 female applicants (60% admitted)

  • UMBC: 3370 male applicants (71% admitted) vs. 3317 female applicants (61% admitted)
    • UMD—College Park: 12,749 male applicants (45% admitted) vs. 13,398 female applicants (44% admitted)

  • University of Mary Washington: 1550 male applicants (72% admitted) vs. 3211 female applicants (75% admitted)

  • University of Richmond: 3601 male applicants (35% admitted) vs. 5060 female applicants (32% admitted)

  • University of Virginia: 10,487 male applicants (31% admitted) vs. 11,637 female applicants (34% admitted)

  • Virginia Commonwealth University: 5345 male applicants (72% admitted) vs. 7579 female applicants (71% admitted)

You can compare these numbers to a similar chart based on data collected in 2009 by clicking here.

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