Nostalgic for the days of single-sex higher education, when you could get serious about your chemistry midterm instead of co-ordinating your outfit, because there weren’t any guys around to waste time primping for?

Well, date-free single-sex education is back–right at your local state university campus, as well as at nearly all private colleges except the most elite. That’s because men are simply disappearing as undergrads at the vast majority of our nation’s officially co-ed institutions. At most of them, every day can be a bad hair day, because there aren’t any guys to speak of around to ask you out.

Here’s where it’s like at the University of North Carolina’s Greensboro campus, where women undergrads outnumber men 2-1, and where New York Times reporter Tamar Lewin interviewed some of those female students:

“They and many other women at Greensboro say it is not bad to be on a campus with twice as many women as men because it encourages them to stick to their studies without the distraction of dating.”


And here’s the scene at the private American University in Washington, D.C., where men make up only 36 percent of the undergrads:

“The admissions office said that its decisions were gender blind, and that it accepted a larger share of female applicants. In an interview, Ivy Broder, the interim provost, seemed surprised, but not bothered, that American had a higher proportion of women than Vassar College, which formerly admitted only women.

“American has no engineering school and no football team; it is a campus where the Democrats’ organization is Democratic Women and Friends; ‘The Vagina Monologues’ sells out at annual performances; and almost 1,000 people turned out for the Breastival, a women’s health fair.”

Gosh, you might be thinking–I thought I turned down Smith.

Here’s more on life at American:

“The faculty is attracting more and more women: a majority of the professors now on the tenure track are female.

“Women on campus say there is great female solidarity. What there is not much of, said Gail Short Hanson, the director of campus life, is a dating scene.

“Said Ms. Hanson: ‘If there’s a dance, like the Founder’s Day dance in February, do the women get their hair done? Yes. Do they get their nails done? Yes. But do they have a date? Probably not. So who do they dance with? Whoever wants to dance.'”

Lewin’s article contains the now-obligatory quote from Pollyana, er, Sara Mead, who insists that the fact that boys and young men are lagging in education isn’t a problem–because the girls are so far ahead!:

“‘People keep asking me why this is such a hot topic, and I think it does go back to the ideas people carry in their heads,’ said Sara Mead, the author of a report for Education Sector, a Washington policy center, that concluded that boys, especially young ones, were making progress on many measures. It suggested that the heightened concern might in part reflect some people’s nervousness about women’s achievement.

“‘The idea that girls could be ahead is so shocking that they think it must be a crisis for boys,” Ms. Mead said. “I’m troubled by this tone of crisis. Even if you control for the field they’re in, boys right out of college make more money than girls, so at the end of the day, is it grades and honors that matter, or something else the boys may be doing?'”

But after Mead finishes her yada-yada, Lewin’s article turns to something really interesting: that the savviest college administrators have finally woken up to the fact that young men and young women tend to have very different academic strengths and weaknesses (Larry Summers, call your former office), and these administrators are retooling curricula recruiting to focus on the math, science, engineering, and business courses to which male students tend to gravitate. For example, when Robert Massa took his job in 1999 as vice president for enrollment at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, he discovered another private campus with a 36 percent male enrollment and a hot new women’s studies major. In five years, Massa turned the tide and managed to boost male enrol he boosted the number of male undergrads at Dickinson to 44 percent:

“In his effort to attract men, Mr. Massa made sure that the admissions materials included plenty of pictures of young men and athletics. Dickinson began highlighting its new physics, computer science and math building, and started a program in international business. Most fundamental, Dickinson began accepting a larger proportion of its male applicants.”

Whoa–better not let Sara Mead–or the American Association of University Women– find out what you’re up to, Mr. Massa.

The Other Charlotte has more on Lewin’s story below.