February 6, 2010

Another stupid article on "the dating scene" in college

Some of the clues that the latest article on the "dating scence" in colleges with 60% female enrollment was written by a reporter with an axe to grind and a preset angle at which to grind:

  • The featured photograph from a university with 60% female enrollment (a) is of college seniors (or I hope they're seniors) in a bar, (b) is of an all-white group of students, (c) has six women and one man, (d) has no older students.
  • Every photograph features white students.
  • All the women interviewed for the story appear to be members of sororities.
  • One of the interviewees is a former student who happens to be hanging out in a bar near campus. (So why is he representative? Why didn't the reporter step a few minutes away from a bar?)
  • The focus is entirely at a flagship public university.
  • There are no older students interviewed for the story.

Since the primary world of colleges is at the regional state university and community-college level, maybe we should skip the flagship campuses and look at the statistics of an institution such as Miami-Dade College. MDC has more than 150,000 students enrolled, and while 60% of them are women, only about 35% are right out of high school (under 21). About two-thirds are attending MDC on a part-time basis, and while MDC is now a four-year institution, I don't think there are any dorms, so every one of those students are commuters and live somewhere in the Miami area. In other words, the dating scene for straight, gay, or bisexual students is where they live as well as on campus. That's the reality for the majority of college students in the United States, not the preppy picture that the New York Times reporter and photographer portrayed.

But if you want to look at residential colleges and universities, maybe a little reality should intrude: the average age at civil marriage for women in the United States has moved back up to the mid-20s, where it has been historically for well over a century, with the exception of the immediate postwar years. College students' meeting and marrying in college is common enough but not dominant. 

And the history of colleges is not one filled with demographic "balance" in some hypothetical way. For many years, the ranks of elite residential institutions were filled with single-sex colleges and universities with single-sex undergraduate colleges, and the students in those colleges and universities had to go off-campus for a hetereosexual dating scene. And in the first decade after World War II, the GI Bill pushed enrollment in public universities in the other direction, towards majority male enrollment. If you can find more than a decade or two when the dominant demographic profiles of residential colleges, community colleges, and public universities were all fairly evenly split by gender, I'd be surprised. My guess is that maybe a decade or two will fit with the peak of the Baby Boom through the mid-1980s... when people worried about the social consequences of the sexual revolution. As one of Gilda Radner's characters would say, if it's not one thing, it's another... so let's stop obsessing with the on-campus dating opportunities of college students.

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Posted in Education policy on February 6, 2010 6:51 AM |