Here’s how colleges can address the issue of gender equity simply and without cost, bringing the percentage of male students and graduates back even with that of females.
As we (Coates and Draves) have noted, Grade Point Averages (GPA) are gender biased. Test scores, including but not limited to the SAT, ACT, and Advanced Placement exams, are gender neutral, meaning girls and boys do equally well on tests. The solution is to admit boys to college based on their test scores, not on their GPA.
Here’s one college that has changed its admission policy.
Robert Massa, vice president for enrollment, began campaigning for more male students shortly after he arrived at Dickinson in 1999 and discovered that only 36 percent of the incoming freshmen were male and that the college had accepted 73 percent of the women who applied, but only 53 percent of the men,. writes education reporter Tamar Lewin in The New York Times, July 9, 2006.
In his effort to attract men, Mr. Massa made sure that the admissions materials included plenty of pictures of young men and athletics. Dickinson began highlighting its new physics, computer science and math building, and started a program in international business. Most fundamental, Dickinson began accepting a larger proportion of its male applicants.
"The secret of getting some gender balance is that once men apply, you've got to admit them," Mr. Massa said. "So did we bend a little bit? Yeah, at the margin, we did, but not to the point that we would admit guys who couldn't do the work."
In education circles, Mr. Massa is sometimes accused of practicing unfair affirmative action for boys. He has a presentation called "What's Wrong With You Guys?" in which he says that Dickinson does not accept a greater proportion of male than female applicants, and that women still get more financial aid.
Mr. Massa reshaped Dickinson in one year. Of the freshmen admitted in 2000, 43 percent were male, and in recent years Dickinson's student body has been about 44 percent male. This year, Dickinson admitted an equal share of the male and the female applicants.
We wrote to Dr. Massa suggesting that his new admissions approach was to place more emphasis on test scores, and less emphasis on GPA. He said we were right in our analysis, noting:
“Prior to my arrival in 1999, SATs played a smaller part in the admissions process at dickinson (this was true in the nineties). Grades were by far the major criteria, and since girls have better high school grades than boys, a much higher percentage of women were being admitted than were men (in 1999, just before I arrived, 75% of the women were admitted vs 50% of the men, in spite of the fact that male accepts had significantly higher SATs -- by about 30 points -- than did female admits).
For the first half of this decade, women were admitted to Dickinson at a rate that was between 4 and 8 points higher than men, but the SAT differential between male and female admits was much smaller --about 10 points in favor of the men, while the average class rank for women was top 13% vs top 18% for men). This past year, men and women were admitted at equal rates, with males again scoring slightly better on the SATs and and women performing slightly better in class.”
But does Massa’s approach work? That is, do males actually graduate from Dickinson in the same numbers and percentages as females? Looking at the overall data from the Dickinson College Office of Institutional Research, the answer is YES, the solution works.
If admitting more boys did not work, the retention rate would go down, and graduation rates would also drop. If admitting more boys worked, then retention and graduation rates should stay the same (going up would be an added positive for the college).
By comparing the numbers from 2000 with the numbers from 2005, rates for one year retention, four year graduation, and six year graduation all got better, not worse.