Losing Single-Sex Education

I am a graduate of a single-sex institution (also known as an all-women’s college). I am quite proud to have gone to a single-sex college. I feel like it prepared me for my career path and the world better than any other institution would have.

Today I started noticing that many of my fellow alums were writing about a different women’s college that has a vote this week whether it will remain single-sex or will become co-ed. About once a year there are one of these stories. It is always a toss-up as to whether the Board of Trustees (or whatever each institution calls their governing board) decides whether to remain a women’s college or not. It is always due to financial situations at the institution. This time it is Chatham University in Pittsburgh.

I understand that institutions must be financially sound (my undergrad was a debt free institution). However, does that have to be at the detriment of losing single-sex higher education?

There is often the stereotype that everyone who goes to a women’s college is a lesbian or will become one. If that was true why are there so many heterosexual engagements that happened with my Hollins friends this year? And what about Hillary Clinton—she is in a heterosexual marriage and went to a women’s college. It is people like her that come out of these single-sex institutions. In fact, many of the most successful women (in the traditional sense) are women’s college graduates.

Many people who go to women’s colleges had no intention of doing so. It was not that they were looking for a single-sex institution. It was other factors that drew them to their schools. For some, it is the professors, the extra curricular activities, the majors offered, the class sizes, and many more reasons.

Women’s colleges offer a living, learning environment in which intelligent, ambitious women are the ones who are doing it all. We are the ones who are participating in class. The ones getting prestigious internships. The ones running the Student Government Association. The ones going on to get into amazing graduate schools and get amazing jobs in locations around the world. One of my fellow alums wrote that while at Hollins, “I learned to share my ideas, to volunteer for causes that I care about, to take risks when they need to be taken. I cultivated my compassion, leadership, ambition, confidence, and creativity. Hollins prepared me for the real world by teaching me the tools I’d need in a supportive, enriching environment, and continues to support me through the extensive network of alumnae and friends. I would certainly not be the woman I am today if it wasn’t for my time at Hollins.” This is similar to what everyone has been writing about their experiences at single-sex institutions, not just Hollins or Chatham.

The young women of Chatham realize the benefit of going to a single-sex institution. They are trying to be vocal about their disapproval of going co-ed. In fact, they held a small protest last week first on campus and then off campus. There is a plan for another protest on Thursday, the day of the vote.

But should single-sex institutions become co-ed? Is there really a benefit to going co-ed? Or are there ways that all of these schools that are considering moving from single-sex to co-ed can succeed while still remaining true to their mission of educating women or educating men?

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