March 28, 2007

Cornell’s Gender Ratio Differs From National Trends

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During the early 1990s, the number of women enrolled in college in the U.S. surpassed the enrollment rate for men. Since then, the college gender gap has widened, and currently, 57 percent of college students in the U.S. states are women. While the gender gap continues to grow, Cornell undermines the national trend with a nearly equal male to female ratio that has remained steady since 2001.

There is no universally agreed upon reason for the college gender gap, but several ideas have been proposed: growing social and behavioral problems of males, women attempting to equalize the gender wage gap (men make more money on average than women) and gender differences in academic achievement.

Prof. Shelley Correll, sociology, who specializes in gender inequality and sociology of education, said, “Men haven’t stopped going to college. In fact, men are in college at higher rates than before.”

Correll said that the increase in the number of women at universities has recently skyrocketed while, men’s numbers have grown slowly and steadily from the start, resulting in the greater difference between the two groups.

Catherine Taylor, a graduate student of sociology studying the experiences of gender minorities in their field, sees differences in academic performance of males and females in grade school and high school as a contributing factor to the uneven national ratio.

“Girls do better in measures of compliance and have better school engagement,” said Taylor. “This leads to better grades and a more competitive college applicant.”

Correll acknowledged the gender difference in terms of academic engagement as well, but noted that the data shows that these differences have remained unchanged since the 1960s, 30 years before the shift in the gender ratio for colleges.

As for Cornell’s almost equal male to female gender ratio, currently at 51:49, Correll said, “Among most prestigious colleges, the ratio tends to be 50:50.”

While Cornell and its Ivy League counterparts maintain almost equal ratios, both Correll and Taylor highlighted the overrepresentation of women at lower-tier colleges and community colleges.

“The bottom line is that selective colleges get more applicants than they can admit, so they get to choose,” said Correll.

Does this theory apply to Cornell’s admissions process?

A representative from the Cornell Undergraduate Admissions Office declined to comment for this article, citing hectic schedules during the admissions season.

According to a University Division of Planning and Budget report from August 2006, Cornell admitted a larger portion of the female applicant pool than of the male applicant pool in 1980. 61 perecent of applicants were male, while 39 percent were female; 30 percent of male applicants were accepted, while 35 percent of the female applicants were accepted.

In 2006, of the 53 percent of males in the applicant pool, 24 percent were admitted; 25 percent of the female applicants were accepted.

The data shows that since 1980, gender ratios in freshman acceptances and also the ratio of applicants to accepted students for each gender have grown more towards equalization.

Each year, Cornell’s Institutional Research and Planning Division releases the Undergraduate Enrollment Trends, a report that offers an in depth evaluation of application and enrollment data by college, race and gender.

Though the gender ratio at Cornell is approximately even, some of the University’s colleges have distinctly different gender patterns.

The 2006 issue of the report shows that the proportion of women enrolled in the College of Human Ecology is 75 percent, while female enrollment in the College of Engineering is 28 percent.

Corell emphasized the University’s variety of opportunities for study, regardless of gender.

“[Ezra Cornell’s] motto was made during a time when ‘man’ was still a generic term for human beings. Since the beginning, Cornell University has made a conscious attempt to include both men and women.”