Advantages of Single-Sex Colleges

At one time in the history of U.S. higher education, college was exclusively a male domain.  Women sometimes attended “female academies” for the purpose of elevating their knowledge and skill as the future wives of enterprising men and mothers of successful offspring to-be. Then came the era of single-sex colleges, and the first co-educational colleges, such as Antioch College in Ohio, where women were initially welcomed as a cadre of helpmates who could assist male students with their laundry. Finally came more genuinely co-educational colleges, ultimately coexisting with an increasingly dwindling number of single sex institutions.

What Are Some Single-Sex Colleges?

Today there are approximately fifty-one single sex colleges in the U.S., with far more of the female-only variety persisting (albeit sometimes struggling), than the male variety. The website http://www.Women’sColleges.org lists some forty-seven women colleges that are still operational (many have closed), including Bryn Mawr, Mt. Holyoke, and Smith of PA; Spelman of GA (a Historically Black College); Stephens of MO; The Women’s College of the University of Denver; and Mills of CA. The four extant men’s colleges are Hampden-Sydney, of VA; Wabash in IN; Morehouse of GA (another HBC); and Deep Springs in CA.

Advantages of single-sex colleges

Arguments in favor of single sex education include a belief, supported with outcomes research, that a single-sex environment eliminates much distraction from an academic course of study, allowing both males and females to perform at a higher level. The evidence in support of women’s colleges is even broader, including findings that women’s college grads have more successful careers, earn more money, and are overall happier; and outcomes suggesting that women’s colleges produce graduates with higher self-esteem than female grads from coed institutions.

It is not the case that students at single-sex institutions are lacking in opposite sex companionship should they desire it — in fact, just the opposite is often true. Stephens College is just blocks from the campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia, and Bryn Mawr students can take courses and participate in clubs and activities on the campuses of Swarthmore, Haverford, and Penn.

Consider including single-sex institutions in your college search.  You may be surprised at what you discover, and very glad you did!

The photo at the top of this article is of a pet-friendly room in a dorm at Stephens College — one of the few colleges in the nation allowing larger pets!

Worthwhile Models: 3+2 Programs

I’ve been excited to see that quite a number of colleges have made special arrangements with other institutions that permit flexibility and cost savings for students.

One great model is the 3+2. This type of set-up can permit a student to attend, for example, a favored liberal arts college for completion of prescribed general education requirements (for a period of three years), and then transfer to another institution for a final two years of intensive, specialized study in the major.  Many liberal arts colleges have established a relationship with larger schools with engineering programs.

Some examples include Beloit College in Wisconsin, which has arrangements with Columbia University and Washington University, St Louis, as well as Kalamazoo College in Michigan, which features arrangements with the University of Michigan and Wash U. There are many more of these to explore and consider. At the end of the prescribed program the student has two degrees: one from the liberal arts college, and one from the engineering program school.

My favorite 3+2 is offered by Stephens College, in Columbia, MO, a historic women’s college. They now offer a partnership with Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA leading to completion of the MPA (physician’s assistant) graduate degree. This program affords a quality experience at two fine institutions in interesting areas of the country as well as two valuable degrees, with the graduate ready to begin working in her field at the end of five years. What a super concept!

 

College Ratings and Rankings

Lists and rankings that purport to identify the “best” colleges make me uncomfortable. One reason is that as I scan such lists I can always come up with multiple comparable schools that deserve to be included, but didn’t make the grade for some reason.

Take the popular Loren Pope book, Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges. I’m familiar with many of the profiled schools that impressed the late Mr. Pope as he crisscrossed the nation back in the late 1990s. I worked at one of them, Denison University, in Granville, OH, for ten years. Denison is a superb school, no doubt about it, and I know many alumni who would say that their attendance did indeed change their lives.

I agree with Mr. Pope that small liberal arts colleges offer an emphasis on teaching and personalized attention that isn’t often available at large universities or even Ivy League schools. And yet, why Denison and not Whittier College in CA, why Kalamazoo College in MI and not Coe College in IA?

My dearest friend graduated from Stephens College, a private women’s college in Columbia, MO. I have visited Stephens several times with Betsy, and met many of her delightful alumnae friends. Virtually all of them cite their Stephens experience as pivotal, and all are doing interesting, worthwhile things with their lives and careers. Yet Stephens isn’t featured in Mr. Pope’s book, nor does it receive a high ranking in the most recent list of national liberal arts colleges from U.S. News and World Report.

One of the major bases for the U.S. News rankings is admission selectivity. I am interested in the yearly institutional outcomes, but more for the individual statistics assembled by the researchers than for any certitude that this is indeed a highly valid list, for the worthiness of colleges in my mind is as variable as the range of interests and learning styles of the nation’s prospective college students in any given year.

I very much agree with a quote by Richard H. Hersch, a past college president and present board member of the American Association of Colleges & Universities from a recent Southeast Education Network publication: “Higher Education is the only industry in America where we rank based on input rather than output.” Precisely!

Ahead of official rankings and standout-40 lists I would recommend building personal lists based on program strengths and alumni reviews, digging deeply into reported institutional strengths and making in-person visits whenever possible to check things out first-hand. Colleges also impress me where faculty members are involved in recruiting and wooing students and where they are accessible to prospective students. Let’s tell school stories more often and look at numbers less frequently.