They’re mistakenly considered outdated academic convents or hideouts for die-hard feminists and lesbians, but women’s colleges provide top-notch educations to some of the smartest, most successful women in America.
Most women’s colleges in the United States were founded during the 19th century in response to the need for higher education for women. Although there were some co-educational colleges at the time, the majority of high quality schools only admitted men. These days, though, women’s colleges have a mysterious air about them. Some people wonder why anyone would ever want to attend an all-female school, and there are a variety of reasons.
Supporters of women’s colleges will point out that the campuses are generally safer or that women tend to perform better in class when not distracted or intimidated by men, but research has found that graduates of women’s colleges are significantly more likely to have graduate degrees than women who graduated from other liberal arts colleges or from public flagship universities.
Data released in 2008 by the Women’s College Coalition, an association of two-year and four-year public, private, religiously affiliated and secular women’s colleges and universities, shows that 53% of women’s college graduates earned a graduate degree, compared with 38% of women who attended other liberal arts colleges and 28% of women who attended public flagship universities.
The study was based on a survey of female college graduates who attended different types of colleges from 1970 through 1997. Surveys also found that the women’s college graduates rated their schools more highly than the women who attended co-ed colleges and universities. Previous studies had found that women’s college students demonstrate higher levels of engagement than the average student.
In a Washington Post column, Selena Rezvani, author of The Next Generation of Women Leaders: What You Need to Lead but Won’t Learn in Business School points out that only two percent of college graduates attended women’s colleges, but the truth is not very many females-only colleges exist.
According to the Atlanta Regional Council for Higher Education, the number of women’s colleges in the United States has declined drastically from two hundred in 1960 to about sixty today.
Kateri Benjamin, a 2009 graduate of Barnard College, was mentioned in a Forbes article about women’s colleges. The 22-year old hadn’t initially planned to attend an all-female school and her friends were confused by her choice. “They said, ‘Are you a feminist? All feminists are lesbians. You’re going to come back a lesbian, ’” she laughed.
Alumnae of women’s colleges caution that the experience isn’t for everyone. “It attracts a certain type of woman,” Kateri Benjamin warned Forbes readers. “Not as much of a partier. Not so much the frat/sorority crowd, more intellectual.”
Sabrina Shange Amani, a graduate of Spelman College, agrees. “When I went to Spelman I thought there would be all these active, ready-to-change-the-world women,” she says. “Instead, I found a group as diverse as any other. Some wanted to get a degree to be a housewife, some wanted to own the world, some wanted to save the world and so many other shades in between.”
“We still face the idea that there aren’t any boys,” the Women’s College Coalition’s Susan Lennon told the magazine. “But it’s a different world now. Most of these colleges are part of a consortium.”
An educational consortium is simply an association of two or more institutions. For example, students at the all-female Bryn Mawr College outside of Philadelphia can take classes at nearby Swarthmore College, Haverford College and the University of Pennsylvania—which are all co-ed schools.
In 2009 Forbes profiled ten of the “best” women’s colleges in the United States, claiming “Legacy, spirit, ambition, racial diversity—these top women’s colleges offer all this and more.”
1. Barnard College
2. Bryn Mawr College
3. Cedar Crest College
4. Mills College
5. Mount Holyoke College
6. Simmons College
7. Smith College
8. Spelman College
9. Sweet Briar College
10. Wellesley College
For comprehensive information about these women’s colleges or any other college or university in the United States, visit our U.S. University Directory.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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