For years, the best colleges for women have faced a challenge as the overwhelming majority of high school girls have no interest in attending a college for women. Student satisfaction surveys show that once enrolled in these colleges, students love the experience. But a lot of them are coming despite a college being an institution for women, not because of it.
It may change.
Some of the top colleges for women expect record classes to enroll this month, as the yield – the percentage of successful applicants who accept offers of admission – is up significantly. It is relatively easy for well-known institutions to see an increase in the number of applicants, which these institutions and other elite liberal arts colleges are also experiencing. After all, applying doesn’t require any commitment. In the age of common application, applying to another college is easy for an applicant. Performance is a whole different matter. It is about depositing a deposit and making a real choice. And women’s colleges with big performance gains (and performance gains of more than a percentage point or two are big) have had application gains for years, but no performance gains.
Decisions last year about where to enroll came after election day 2016, but much of the planning and student thinking about choosing a university that year preceded Trump’s election and the Me Too movement. This impact seems to be manifesting itself this year.
To examine the impact, consider Bryn Mawr College. Its 3,166 applications this admissions cycle represent an 8 percent increase over last year. But much more noticeable is the increase in yield from 32 to 36 percent.
Officials at Bryn Mawr and elsewhere feel that young women are deciding they want a college for women, not just a liberal arts college which just happens to be a college for women, as it was in the past.
“They are great schools. People have always cared about us because we are great schools,” said Kim Cassidy, president of Bryn Mawr. “I think before 2016 a lot of high school girls weren’t looking at us because they didn’t understand what it was like to be at a university for women.” Recent events, she said, could change their perspective.
The college has seen a sharp increase in campus visits, she noted, suggesting that more women are open to the idea of women’s colleges than were the case in the past.
Bryn Mawr isn’t the only one seeing a change in attitude.
Barnard College has seen a 10 percent increase in apps and a four percentage point increase in performance, from 51 to 55 percent, since 2016.
Jennifer Fondiller, vice president of enrollment at Barnard, said she was seeing more essays than in the past on issues related to working on political campaigns and joining protest movements or events, such as the Women’s March. More essays than in the past address issues of sexism or privilege, she added.
Based on the essays she reads and discussions with applicants, Fondiller said she believes those who sign up are “extremely aware of what’s going on in the world, as current events have motivated them to. to fight for social justice and equality… They are looking for colleges that will prepare them to enter these difficult spaces and navigate these conversations with confidence.
Sonya Stephens, President of Mount Holyoke College, sees similar models.
Applications for this admissions cycle have increased from 3,446 to 3,611, a gain that Stephens does not seem unusual, compared to other competitive liberal arts colleges. But the gain in yield – from 30% to 34% – is “very striking”.
For the college, that will mean a significantly larger class of new students arriving later this month. Currently, the estimate is 636, down from 529 a year ago.
Stephens said the college is strongly committed to social justice. She and others have spoken out on women’s rights, including the rights of transgender women, as well as the rights of immigrants, minority students and other groups.
These values seem to resonate with prospective students, Stephens said. When colleges ask students about the reasons for enrolling, academic programs, prestige, campus life, and career goals usually top the list, and most other factors are far below.
When Mount Holyoke asked students who decided to enroll this year why they did so, 54% said social movement awareness influenced their decision “a lot” or “a lot”.
Audrey Smith, Vice President of Registration at Smith College, said applications have been pouring in for a decade, so she doesn’t attribute all of this year’s success to how young women perceive sexism and injustice in the world.
Still, she said, the trends favor Smith and other women’s colleges.
Going back a few years, she compared the numbers for the class that enrolled in fall 2015 to the class that enrolled this month. Applications are up from 5,006 to 5,780, the admission rate is down from 38% to 31% and the yield is up from 32% to 35%.
“Fewer women are excluding female colleges,” she said. Smith has long seen many of his candidates also apply to Mount Holyoke and Wellesley College. Now the college is receiving more cross applications with Amherst College, Brown University, and Wesleyan University. When women have sought to apply to such colleges in the past, they have generally excluded women’s colleges.
The trend is not unique to the Northeast, although this is where most of the most prestigious women’s colleges in the country are located.
Agnès Scott College, Georgia, did not verify whether Me Too motivates more students to enroll. But the yield is up this year – 25 to 30 percent. College officials give credit to curriculum reforms, which have placed more emphasis on holistic and leadership skills. But it may also be related to the wider environment of women, they said in a statement.
“We generally attract the type of students who are more globally aware of the world and their place in it or who seek to broaden their understanding of others, and who often have a growing desire to effect positive change, than this either in their communities, society as a whole or particular groups of marginalized peoples, ”the statement said.
This fall’s freshman class is set to be the largest in college history.
Certainly, not all women’s college leaders have embraced the Me Too movement. AT Soft heather college, who struggled with late registrations, many students and alumni were horrified when university officials failed to criticize an opening speech in May which seemed to blame the sexual harassment on its victims.
Change the message?
For colleges that speak explicitly of Me Too and misogynist political leaders, the current moment is prompting some to rethink the way they position their institutions.
Cassidy, of Bryn Mawr, said she sees her college and others being more explicit about the value of women’s colleges, while trying to fight misconceptions about them.
“I think we need to be very clear that the message is not to separate from society,” but to “own who we are,” she said.
“It’s really important to talk about the value and the great education that the students are going to receive,” she said. For women, this means that they will have an environment “where women are at the center and the engines of academic excellence, that these are places where women dominate all fields”.
Smith, of Smith College, says she sees much more confidence today in admissions officers drawing attention to the ethics of women’s colleges.
“I felt there was a need to put a bushel above the light of the wonderful attributes of a women’s quorum,” Smith said. “It would say to a student, trust me, when you are older you will understand. “
“Now we have brought this message to light, and it is at the forefront of the discussion.”