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To Fix College Gender Gap, Look at Ninth Grade

As we mentioned yesterday, women outnumber men on college campuses by a ratio of 57 to 43. As a result, some colleges are giving preferential...


As we mentioned yesterday, women outnumber men on college campuses by a ratio of 57 to 43. As a result, some colleges are giving preferential treatment to males during the admission process, trying to ensure they get a decent mix of men to women. That practice, in turn, has groups, such as the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, up in arms about gender bias in college admissions. (In fact, while it has no legal authority to correct a problem, the commission is subpoenaing Washington, D.C.-area colleges to determine whether their admissions processes are unfair.)What's causing this surplus of women at our institutions of higher learning?If you ask Richard Whitmire, a former editorial writer at USA Today and the author of Why Boys Fail, the answer is pretty simple: ninth grade.In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Whitmire explains that there are 13 percent more males entering ninth grade each year than females. However, on average 40 percent more males are held back in that grade each year.
Boys are getting clobbered by school reforms that push higher-level academic skills, especially advanced literacy skills, into the lowest grades. They fall behind quickly, get passed through middle school, and then hit a wall in ninth grade as they enter high-stakes territory. Even if the boys recover, their senior-year GPA's will never match those of the girls.
This early discouragement can keep a lot of these boys from recovering and making it to college. Then, as reported in the Times this weekend, college becomes a place where, socially speaking, a glut of women are competing for a dearth of men.In a USA Today Q&A, Whitmire addressed the consequences of that paradigm:
The marriageable-mate dilemma, whether white women decide to "marry down" to less-educated males, will be a long-term impact of these gender gaps, and probably the biggest impact. Black women have long faced the marriageable-mate dilemma, and college-educated black women have low marriage rates and high out-of-wedlock birth rates. The question is whether more white women will start making similar choices.
In the Chronicle column, Whitmire enumerates his ideas for eliminating the gender gap. Among other steps he advocates is not taking ninth grade into account when determining students' high school GPAs.But, making concessions for one gender over the other veers this issue into affirmative-action territory. Is that how you see this debate? Should colleges be trying everything in their power to put together gender-equal classes?
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