Casting a Wider Net

    It’s not about being the weaker sex or the fairer sex. It’s not about feminism or pacifism. It’s not about our role as mothers or daughters. It’s not about being goddesses or muses, or first or last, and it’s not even about the war between motherhood and professionalism. It’s really just a matter of economics.

    This school year, many small women’s colleges are saying goodbye to their women-only policies and making plans to accept men next fall.

    Unfortunately this decision sparked a severe controversy among the students of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Virginia. Following the college’s announcement of the new policy, many of its 712 students fiercely protested against the drastic change. Moreover, a Sept. 21 article in the New York Times stated that 200 of the school’s students were so angered by the move that they applied to transfer to other colleges.

    But the situation isn’t quite what it seems.

    What might appear on the surface as an attempt to end segregation of the sexes is actually a much-needed change of policy to help ease the financial difficulties of these small single-sex schools. But the girls at R-MWC are less concerned about the college’s financial troubles and more concerned about the loss of their single-sex education.

    While this change came as a severe disappointment to many of the young women who chose these schools based on their long history of educating only women, colleges like R-MWC in Virginia, Regis College in Massachusetts and numerous others, can no longer attract enough female students to stay afloat.

    No matter what the protests against this revolutionizing, the new admissions plan represents a wise move forward in both its economic sensibility and progressive philosophy.

    According to the article, 99 percent of the students at R-MWC receive some amount of financial aid. While the tuition runs a high $30,000, the average student pays only $13,000, the article said.

    This has long been helpful in attracting students to the women’s college because while they benefit from having a private education coupled with a low faculty-to-student ratio, they don’t pay nearly the high price they would at another private school. Unfortunately, continuing to recruit students at this price and in this manner isn’t feasible with the diminishing number of students the school attracts from year to year and its finite private donations.

    The article also commented on this decreasing number of interested female students, noting that “only 3.4 percent of girls graduating from high school last year who took the SAT said they would apply to women’s colleges, according to College Board, down from 5 percent 10 years ago.”

    Considering these disappointing figures, the school ought to be congratulated for its rather bold but economically sensible decision. For schools such as the R-MWC, the most basic economic principle is matching market demand; in fact, it’s the key to market success.

    “The market is telling us young women don’t want to come to single-sex colleges,” R-MWC alumna Ginger Worden told the Times regarding the decline in interest among young high school girls.

    In this case, there was a dramatic oversupply paired with a scarcity of market demand from the college’s audience, as Worden notes. So they did what any smart business would — they increased their audience.

    Even though the school and many others like it across the nation that are opening their doors to men are receiving immense flak for their anti-feminist decision, it should be marked as a move forward for young women, rather than a step backward.

    In fact, the situation is quite a positive one. If these young women are to really get an education that will prepare them for the challenges of in the business world, they have to be educated with men. This knowledge is crucial because competition between men and women is commonplace, but more than that, life is full of interaction with the opposite sex. After all, half the world is male.

    Furthermore, making the assertion that women need private men-free environments in order to succeed seemingly confirms our role as the weaker sex when that’s not the case.

    The strides we’ve made in gender equality came not from creating a divide between men and women but from promoting integration of the sexes.

    But in the end, the competition factor is really secondary. It’s not about a fight for women’s education or an end to segregation. It’s really about the simple principles of economics and what a business did to be able to keep its doors open to anyone at all.

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