The Advantages of Women’s Colleges

Why Women’s Colleges Make the Grade

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I am an ardent believer in women’s colleges. I currently teach at a large co-ed institution, but I always have a big place in my heart for liberal arts women’s colleges.

I’ll admit it—I’m a bit biased. I graduated from Mount Holyoke College and have taught at Spelman College—two phenomenal women’s colleges. And it is my experience as both an alumna of a women’s college and as former professor at women’s college that shapes my passion for women’s education.

During my years at Mount Holyoke I flourished within an academic and social environment that emphasized my intellectual ability, fostered my feminism, and encouraged my potential as leader. Many of my close friends—women who excel in activism, teaching, philanthropy, publishing, and medicine—are Mount Holyoke women.

While in graduate school at Emory University, I was an adjunct instructor at Spelman College. My experience on the other side of the women’s college classroom was extremely gratifying. My students were ambitious, engaged, and passionate about not only learning but also about changing the world.

I’m not suggesting that woman can’t or don’t flourish at co-ed institutions. They can and do all the time. However, both anecdotal and statistical evidence has shown the myriad of benefits for women attending women’s only institutions of higher learning.

But don’t just take my word on it.

Many former alums of women’s colleges cite their undergraduate experience with women’s only education as foundational to the success in their lives and careers.

Forbes interviewed several graduates of women’s colleges and reports: “‘Women’s colleges tend to attract a very competitive and driven student base, and that’s the group you are surrounding yourself with during these critical years,’ says Valerie Saunders, a 40-year-old Smith College grad who owns a successful photo agency in Jersey City, N.J.

‘That’s where you are developing your work ethic and your first goals as an adult.’”

Women’s colleges are places where women lead in all aspects of student government and where women’s voices are not in the background in classes. These environmental advantages are not only good for the four years on campus, but translate to the decades of work and civic engagement women do outside of college.

Evette Dionne, graduate of Bennett College and writer at Clutch Magazine, writes that, “Women’s colleges are rooted in traditions that promote empowerment, sisterhood, and the intelligence of women. Some might question the relevance of women’s colleges in a society where women are making strides toward gender parity, but statistics show that women’s colleges such as Bennett and Spelman College are responsible for sending over 50 percent of Black women to graduate programs in the sciences.”

Women’s colleges have the distinct legacy of producing many of our society’s trailblazers (see Emily Dickinson, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Madeline Albright, Jhumpa Lahiri, Beverly Guy Sheftall, Suzan-Lori Parks, and on and on). However, historically Black women’s colleges, such as Bennett and Spelman, have been particularly vital in educating Black women and woman of color who have gone on to excel in a variety of fields.

This fact is no small feat and is another reason why the power of women’s colleges should not go unnoticed.

Students at women’s colleges generally understand that we are not living a post-feminist society in which gender disparity is a sad memory of the past. They are equipped with the knowledge that sexism exists and are continuing the fight against it. Current Scripps College student Elisabeth Pfeiffer writes, “Our nation still has much progress to make to close the gender gap in Congress, as well as in other professions. I believe women’s colleges have the potential to create a community of empowered women that can take on larger responsibilities and leadership roles post graduation. Personally, I believe that because I am surrounded by strong, female role models I am inspired to become a leader myself, in order to make a positive difference.”

And, contrary to popular belief, students at women’s colleges are not cloistered man-haters who are ill-equipped to navigate a world with men. Scripps College graduate Rachel Hennessey writes that,

“Physical and social separation from men is not the goal of a women’s college; today almost all are in consortiums or close proximity to co-ed colleges. The goal is to foster a community in which women have greater access to engage in a variety of opportunities. Of course women can rise to leadership roles in co-ed environments too. Attending a women’s college is simply one of many avenues — a fit for some and not others — by which to reach the mutual goal of all females: social equality.”

Firsthand experience not convincing enough? Here are some great statistics on life after women’s colleges:

“Women’s college students are able to observe women in top positions in their own institutions -- 90% of women’s college presidents are women, and 55% of faculty are women.

Women attending women’s colleges are 1.5 times more likely to major in math, science, or pre-med than women at co-ed schools.

Women’s college graduates make up 2% of the college graduate population, yet comprise more than 20% of women in Congress and 33% of the women on Fortune 1000 boards.

Far more students and alumnae at women’s colleges reported having frequent interaction with their professors than those at co-ed institutions (according to a recent study at Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Research).

Women’s college graduates have accumulated a variety of “firsts”, including the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the first woman in a presidential cabinet, and thefirst woman to serve as the general of the U.S. Army.”

There are so many advantages to attending a women’s college. If there is a young woman considering college in your life, suggest that she consider a women’s college. It might be one of the best decisions she can make for her future.