The Academic Impact of Title IX
July 2, 2012 by Ann Harmon
The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.
June 2012 marks the fortieth anniversary of Title IX, part of the Education Amendments of 1972. Most of the commemoration of this event has focused on the impact Title IX has had on sports, but equally if not more important is the impact Title IX has had on academics. In fact it was originally conceived mainly to help women get a fair chance at being hired by colleges and universities. One of the architects of the law, Bernice Sandler, was a part-time lecturer at the University of Maryland, and had applied for a tenure-track job but was rejected. When she asked one of her friends on the faculty why she was rejected, he said, “Well let’s face it, you come on too strong for a woman.” She continued to apply for jobs and got two more rejections, including being told, “You’re not really a professor, just a housewife who went back to school.” Three times she got on the short list, but didn’t get the job. This situation has improved only somewhat since the introduction of Title IX, however; 25 percent of full-time faculty at research universities are women as of 2001; in 1972, the number was 18 percent.
The situation has greatly improved for female students, however. Title IX, among other accomplishments, put an end to quotas against women, whereby colleges and universities would declare, for example, “only 5% of our law school/medical school/college will be female, regardless of how many qualified women apply.” Other universities outright refused to let women apply, even if they were funded with federal funds, including women’s tax dollars. That was very common in the years before Title IX was implemented, as it was assumed women didn’t really “need” the education anyway as they would just get married and become housewives. Title IX also put an end to high schools discriminating against girls, refusing to let them take (for example) shop or even higher math because they might distract the boys. In 1994 (the most recent year for which I could find statistics, from “Indicators of Progress Toward Equal Educational Opportunity Since Title IX” by the U.S. Department of Education), 63 percent of female high school graduates aged 16-24 were enrolled in college, up 20 percentage points from 43 percent in 1973. In 1994, 27 percent of both men and women had earned a Bachelor’s degree, up from 18 percent of women and 26 percent of men in 1971. In 1994, women received 38 percent of medical degrees up from 9 percent in 1972. Women earned 38 percent of dental degrees, up from only 1 percent in 1972. Women earned 43 percent of law degrees, up from 7 percent in 1972. Women earned a majority of Doctoral degrees in 2010, up from only 25 percent in 1977. From 1975 to 2001, there has also been a steady increase in the number of women completing Bachelor’s degrees in all branches of science.
Furthermore, Title IX has played a part in lowering the dropout rate among high school girls who became pregnant or had a child. The law prohibits schools which receive federal funding – which includes all public schools – from suspending, expelling, or discriminating against girls in educational programs and activities due to their status as mothers. The childbearing rates rose between 1980 and 1990 from fewer than 1 percent to 2.5 percent, but dropout rates declined 30 percent during the same period, even though graduation requirements were raised. In the end, Title IX has helped women not only on the athletic field, but in the classroom, and should be recognized for both those achievements.