In 1971, 250 women applied to Bowdoin. The College wanted only 30 of them.
Today, the number of women on campus has risen to the point where, at this once all-male campus, there are now more women than men.
The phenomenon of women outnumbering men on U.S. campuses has received national attention. But it may be in more areas than admissions that women's numbers are increasing.
The New York Times published a front-page article in July reporting that while women are having more success in college than ever, men are falling behind in enrollment, academic achievement, and involvement in campus activities.
To see if the national trends apply to Bowdoin, the Orient spoke with more than 10 members of the faculty, staff, and administration, analyzed Bowdoin's Common Data Set and Phi Beta Kappa records, several other colleges' factbooks and Common Data Sets, and national statistics on higher education.
While Bowdoin reflects the national trends in some respects, in others it does not.
In the fall of 2005, the total student body at Bowdoin was slightly more than 50 percent female. That percentage is much higher for colleges and universities nationwide. In its July article, the New York Times reported that women made up 58 percent of students enrolled in two- and four-year colleges. And the National Center for Education Statistics reported that in 2003-2004 women earned 57 percent of all bachelor's degrees.
"The percentage of women in college [nationwide] compared to men right now is dramatically out of balance," said new Dean of Admissions Bill Shain in an interview about his plans for Bowdoin earlier this month.
While the class entering Bowdoin in 2005 was about 54 percent female, the College admits the same percentage of men and women from their respective applicant pools. The disparity therefore stems from a greater number of women applying.
Bowdoin reported 366 more women than men applied to enter the College for the fall of 2005. While the admit rate and enrollment rate for the male and female applicant pools were nearly identical, women outnumbered men in the class 257 to 220 (54 percent women to 46 percent men).
"I don't know at what point having too many of one gender would be a bad thing," said Shain. "And I don't think being 50-50 is very important, but somewhere between 50-50 and dramatic imbalance there's a tipping point. I don't think we're there, but I think many liberal arts colleges are."
For example, at Vassar College, once an all-female institution, 59 percent of enrolled students were women in the fall of 2005. Bates and Colby colleges reflected a balance more similar to Bowdoin's, with the schools both reporting about 52-53 percent women in their incoming classes in the fall of 2005.
More telling at Bowdoin than the breakdown of percentages for the current class is how these numbers have changed over time.
In the 2001-2002 academic year, the first-year class was 50.4 percent women, and there were still more men than women on campus by about 2 percentage points (824 men to 797 women). But just one year later, the ratio flipped, and women outnumbered men by the same ratio, reflecting the fact that the incoming class was 52 percent female.
At some colleges, officials are trying to address the disparity. The New York Times reported that 40 percent of applicants to Brown for this year's incoming class were male, but 47 percent of those admitted were men.
At Davidson College, a small liberal arts college in North Carolina, over 200 more women than men applied to enter for the fall of 2005, but only six more women than men were accepted. Davidson reported that it is meeting its goal of "equal enrollment by gender. The desired gender balance was achieved by the number of men and women differing by only three."
Shain said that Bowdoin, however, does not "run a specifically gender-aware process."
"You'll do some fine-turning, and it could certainly have an effect on the waiting list," he said. "Part of it is you have facilities that are sometimes gender-specific, athletics or housing. The second thing is that you're building a community. There are certain balances that are important. There are some [colleges] that are over 60 percent female. That affects everyone's social relationships."
Making the grade
Women are not only getting into Bowdoin in greater numbers, but some evidence, while not conclusive, suggests they may be doing better while they are here.
The degree of that trend is not clear since the College did not release information on grades to the Orient.
"We just have always had a policy that we don't break down SAT scores and GPA by subgroups," said Director of Institutional Research Christine Brooks Cote. "It can lead to misinterpretation."
However, the Orient's analysis of Bowdoin's Phi Beta Kappa records reflects the national trend of greater female academic success. The breakdown showed that women receiving the honor have significantly outnumbered men over the last several years.
In 1990 and 1995, women and men received Phi Beta Kappa honors?determined primarily by "scholarly achievement," according to the Bowdoin web site?about equally. But in 2000, the percentage of women jumped to about 57 percent. At last year's graduation, the number of women receiving the honor reached 69 percent, or 29 out of 42.
Professor of Economics Rachel Connelly, who is also acting chair of the Department of Gender and Women's Studies, is unconvinced about the concern over what some in the mainstream media are calling a "boy crisis" in academics.
"It's garbage," said Connelly. "I think that whenever women are doing worse than men, we see it as normal, but whenever women are doing better than men it's a big problem. I don't deny that there are concerns about rates of college attendance of young men in the United States, but the solution is not to look at why women are doing so well."
Director of Institutional Research and Assessment Mark Freeman at Colby College said his office only breaks down GPA internally, but that "informally, we don't see a dramatic difference" between men and women.
At Bates College, Director of Institutional Planning and Analysis Jim Ferguson said that "women tend to be slightly higher than the men," but probably only in the range of half a letter grade.
"It's not that great a difference," Ferguson said.
There also is some suggestion that women are more likely to do their schoolwork than men. A 2000 spring survey of students conducted by Bowdoin's Office of Institutional Research showed that 49 percent of women compared to 28.6 percent of men completed all assigned readings for class about every week.
But the office's spring 2001 survey of students' experiences in classes showed that men and women spent the same amount of time on course work per week and attended classes at the same rate.
Professor of Economics John Fitzgerald provided the Orient with results from a 2006 spring semester survey of first-year students regarding their use of time. The survey was administered during the third week of the 2006 spring semester and a second time during the 10th week to the same randomly selected group of about 200 first-year students.
Fitzgerald said in an email that results showed that among other things, men on average spend more time participating in leisure activities and sleeping than women.
"One possible concern is that men and women may report the same time use differently," Fitzgerald said in an email. "Men and women might differ in their willingness to admit to leisure or to less studying and this would compromise the results."
An informal poll of students and administrators involved in student life beyond academics indicated that the degree of male or female participation was heavily dependent on the type of activity.
"I would say anecdotally that my impression would be that in terms of organizational involvement, in terms of leadership, that women are more engaged," said Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster.
However, Foster noted there is a stronger male presence in student government.
Director of Student Life Allen DeLong said that in the past five years, only one woman has been Bowdoin Student Government (BSG) president or a class president.
Though women are not taking on the roles of president, they are starting to fill more positions.
The Class of 2007's president, DeRay Mckesson, said that the officer group he leads has more females than males. Also, four BSG vice presidents are women.
Mckesson, who is also a head proctor, BSG president, and a head tour guide, said that he sees more women involved in some of his activities than men.
"Females are more willing to take risks in terms of involvement in activities outside their comfort zones," he said, noting that significantly more tour guides are female than male.
Student Activities Fund Committee chair Becca Ginsberg '07 said that the group leaders that approach her committee for funding are "usually pretty even" in terms of males and females.
"I don't see a huge gender divide here," Ginsberg said. "I don't think that people really think about it that much. [Campus groups] are looking for the best leaders, and it's great that we have both strong males and females."
But some campus organizations, especially those involving community service activities, have an overwhelmingly female makeup. Of the 42 students who lead the volunteer organizations under the Community Service Council, 31 are women.
Study away has also seen higher participation by women. Statistics from the Office of Off-Campus Study showed that slightly over 60 percent of the students who plan to study away this year are women.
Director of Off-Campus Study Stephen Hall said that the discrepancy between men and women studying away is lower than at most schools. He has been compiling information on 24 schools in the Northeast and has found that "women are overrepresented [in study abroad] almost everywhere." Hall found that for those schools, 67 percent of those studying abroad are women.
He said his office has not taken any special measures to recruit men.
"We haven't put out the call to male students in particular," he said. "We're already sending a large proportion [to study] away, and anyone who wants to study abroad probably realizes that the opportunity exists."
According to Hall, the majors that tend to send more students abroad are art history, English, French, Spanish, psychology, and sociology.
"Those departments tend to have more women," he said. "But I don't think that's the whole answer."
Hall also noted that while some say the national difference is due to greater male involvement in athletics, which prohibits them from studying away, at Bowdoin a relatively equal number of men and women participate in sports.
"It's not as simple as saying men do athletics more and therefore study abroad less," said Hall.
One service offered by the College that sees little discrepancy between male and female use is the Career Planning Center (CPC). The CPC said that for students registered in eBear across the classes of 2006 through 2010, men and women were equally involved in career preparation activity, such as uploading documents to eBear. More women were involved in advising activity (53 percent), but more men were participating in interviewing activity (55 percent).
Have things really changed?
Some on campus feel that women still have progress to make.
"My frustration is that we're going to forget we haven't achieved gender equity in our education system and more importantly in the labor market," Connelly, the economics professor, said. "It distracts us from the work we still have to do."
Connelly has a history of working with gender issues on campus. She has served on the Oversight Committee for the Status of Women at Bowdoin, the Task Force for Improving the Status of Women, and acted as Bowdoin's special assistant to the president on gender equality for one semester in 1998.
Connelly said that the working groups did have success in the early years of the committee at "really keeping the administration's feet to the fire" and made gains through programs such as faculty development on diversity, the implementation of a new sexual harassment policy, and paid family leave.
However, Connelly said that she still sees gaps, especially as an economics professor. In her department, the male students far outnumber the women.
"It used to be that 20 percent of our majors were women, but it may be as high as 25 percent now. That's not anywhere near equal," she said. "At least in terms of how women students are choosing majors, we still see very big differences between the choices women make and the choices men make."
Connelly noted that at most schools like Bowdoin, the economics majors are mostly men. But at all-female schools such as Mount Holyoke or Smith, the same proportion of their student bodies major in economics as Bowdoin's.
"There's some sense that economics is for men, which is a message they're not getting at Smith and Mount Holyoke," Connelly said.
Like economics, the computer science department is also seeing low numbers of female majors. Karen Fossum '07, a psychology and computer science double major, said that there have never been more than three female students in her computer science classes, which have ranged in size from 12 to 20.
"I wouldn't say I'm intimated by it," she said, adding that the department is welcoming and excited for anyone who wants to pursue the major.
The department does make an effort to bring women in. Fossum said that Laura Toma, an assistant professor in the department, always has lunch with the women taking her courses to encourage them, but Fossum noted that "there's only so much the department can do."
The physics department, which with fewer than 20 percent female majors is slightly below the national average, is also working to recruit women.
"Many of the top students I see in my introductory physics classes are women, but they don't stay in the department," said Madeleine Msall, associate professor and chair of the physics and astronomy department. "We are pretty frustrated because we don't know why."
Msall said that while the situation has improved, the numbers haven't been changing fast enough. This year's senior class has three female physics majors, but the junior class has only one.
"What really bothers me about it is that when I was a student, I was the only woman taking physics classes," she said. "Twenty-five years later, things still aren't moving."
Connelly noted that the best way to address these issues is to keep talking about them.
"I don't see us as having these huge gaping gaps that we did have," Connelly said. "I think we've made a lot of progress, but that doesn't mean we're done yet. That doesn't mean we can stop paying attention, and we certainly aren't going to declare that we've won this battle."