The Case for Women-Only Colleges

ALL-WOMEN'S colleges in the United States have declined significantly since 1960, falling from 298 institutions that year to 84 today. But in Canada, higher education for women only never took off.

Since it began building up its public university system in the 1960s and 1970s, Canada chose to create a universally strong system, never embracing the idea of single-sex universities for women. Mount Saint Vincent was an exception, founded as a private women's college in 1873 by an order of Roman Catholic nuns. In 1966 the college became a university, and in 1988 it became wholly independent.

Beginning in 1967, even this bastion of women's education began accepting a few men. Yet it remains a "predominantly" women's college "dedicated" to women's education with 85 percent of its 3,500 students being female.

"Frankly, there are very few all-women's colleges where there are no men on campus," says Jadwiga Sebrechts, executive director of the Women's College Coalition in Washington, D.C. "From that perspective, Mount Saint Vincent is not that different from any other women's college. But 15 percent males would be at the high end of the spectrum."

Another distinction: More than 50 percent of the Mount's faculty is female, compared with just 12 percent of college senior administrators, and 18 percent of faculty across Canada, says Elizabeth Parr-Johnston, president of Mount Saint Vincent University.

"We try at the Mount to make sure our curriculum and language is gender neutral so the students don't get subtle messages that they're not supposed to be in science or math, for example," Dr. Parr-Johnston says.

"Research shows clearly that girls in single-sex environments are going to do better than when mixed with boys," says Monique Frize, a University of New Brunswick professor of electrical engineering. "But the solution for me is not more single-gender schools. The solution is to fix what's wrong.... At the moment, however, if I had a daughter, I would consider very seriously sending her to a single-gender school."

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