PART II: Gender Inclusion
A common refrain we hear when we talk about gender inclusion on campus goes, “If they don’t like it, they can go somewhere else!”
This is our university’s problem. Students are choosing to attend other universities instead of MUW. And who is choosing not to attend our university might surprise you.
When we look at the Unduplicated Headcount for the last 30 years we see the male enrollment has remained stagnant, only shifting 50-100 students either direction since 1989. We should make it clear, it’s not good to see enrollment in a segment of students is unchanged since the late 80s.
However, looking at female enrollment at the university over the same period, we see something else entirely. Our female student population is falling.
We can’t reiterate this enough: Female enrollment at Mississippi University for Women has been in a steady decline for three decades.
If you follow national trends for single-gender institutions and perceived single-gender institutions, this isn’t a surprise to you. In the 1960s there were 298 women’s colleges. Today, that number is fewer than 50, and many of those have coeducational graduate programs and male day students to bolster enrollment.
20% of the schools
we were compared to in 2008
no longer exist.
In 2008, when the university last considered a name change, our consulting group identified 45 colleges and universities that were either all-female or perceived as all-female. Back then, the headline was that each of these schools was private except The W. Fourteen years later, the headline is different. One in five of the perceived single-gender institutions researchers compared our university to in 2008 have either closed, merged with another university, or listed as “likely to perish”.
Why do we use the term “perceived single-gender institutions”? Much like MUW, many of the colleges still thought of as “all-girls schools” have gone co-educational.
National research shows only 3% of college-age women want to attend a single-gender college. And 0% of men believe they can attend a perceived all-girls college. With about 1 in 5 students on our campus being men, those interested in an all-girls college experience would quickly realize we couldn’t provide one.
Our university commissioned a survey of prospective students. The study showed 50% of prospective students in the state of Mississippi believed MUW to be an all-women’s university. Among students outside the state, this number jumped to almost 80% of all prospective students.
Our own records show only 4% of Mississippi high school seniors taking the ACT listed MUW among their top six college choices. Of all Mississippi prospective students—male or female—96% express no interest in the Mississippi University for Women brand.
The MUW Brand Carries a Legal Hindrance
Did you know the name of Mississippi University for Women has been legally challenged in federal court? No, we’re not talking about that case. Most people know about Hogan v. Mississippi University for Women. It’s a landmark legal decision that ended up being used to help women enroll in previously all-male institutions. Fewer people know about Washington v. Mississippi University for Women.
While Hogan challenged the university policies on admitting men, Washington stated that the name of the institution itself discriminated against men. The university agreed to a consent decree in 1991 which requires the university to include specific wording on all recruiting and marketing materials to state explicitly that the university is co-educational. To this day, by law, we can not mention Mississippi University for Women on recruitment brochures with also including “coeducational since 1982”.
A long time coming
Still fewer realize the university’s discussions about gender inclusion on campus date well before the 1982 Supreme Court decision. In the 1970s, before the last time we changed our name, President Charles Hogarth identified the single-gender identity of MSCW as a factor hindering growth. In 1971, Hogarth surveyed students on three possibilities: keep the college all-female, admit men in a limited capacity as day-students, or become fully coeducational. We know the results of the survey. The university wouldn’t admit men until mandated to do so a decade later.
What the Hogarth Coeducational Survey does show is the university has considered the single-gender identity a hindrance to growth for at least the last 50 years.
Since the 1970s, we’ve seen the issue of gender inclusion raised once per decade: The Hogarth Survey in 1971; the Supreme Court decision in 1982; the Consent Decree in 1991; the Reneau Naming Attempt in 2008; a long and painful dispute with some alumnae, ending in 2012; and today’s consideration at the request of the Dean’s Council.
Each time, the university knew the name and single-gender identity of the institution were a hindrance to growth. Over the last fifty years the university's enrollment slowed then began to decline.