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Why are there women’s colleges, and do we still need them?

An article by USA Today (8/17) authors explain that, “Started in the mid-19th century, women’s colleges in the U.S. opened to level the educational playing field for women who couldn’t otherwise get a college education. Recent Census figures show that more women have undergraduate and advanced degrees than men.” But then they beg the question,  “So, is the mission accomplished?”

Texas Woman's University
Texas Woman’s University

I attended Texas Woman’s University for my undergraduate degree. The doors opened in 1901 under the name  Girls Industrial College. In 1934 it became Texas State College for Women, and in 1957 –  Texas Woman’s University. Men are admitted into TWU’s graduate programs and undergraduate and graduate health sciences professions programs in Denton, Dallas and Houston, in 1972. A little over two decades later (1994), men are admitted to all undergraduate degree programs at TWU.  (TWU History)

So did I really attend a woman’s university or a school with an identity crisis? Because TWU is a state institution, I believe they had to open the doors to men, unlike private institutions that aren’t governed by state funding. This was probably less of a mandate for equity and more of a need for funds, but I cannot speak on behalf of the university.

So back to the question, “is the mission accomplished?” The USA Today article counters:

Not so, says Susan Lennon of the Connecticut-based Women’s College Coalition. Women’s colleges still serve a purpose, she says. “Women continue to remain underrepresented in key leadership positions and the STEM fields: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics,” Lennon said.

At TWU, I earned a degree in Computer Science and a minor in Mathematics. I went on to earn a M.S. in Electrical Engineering though a partner program at Texas Tech University. TWU provided opportunities for me to intern at Texas Instruments, and gave me invaluable experience that has reaped tremendous dividends a decade later. There were some men in our department at TWU, but they were the minority. Much different when I went to Texas Tech and I was the minority! I know without a doubt that TWU prepared me in a way that going to a large university like the University of Texas or Texas A&M could not. I was automatically accepted to those schools because of my high school ranking, but I was never interested in attending there. I chose TWU because they offered me a full ride. I didn’t want to attend a woman’s university (perhaps I was a little boy crazy), but I sure am glad that I did attend TWU.

Now, I am a Doctoral Candidate in Engineering Education at Purdue University focusing my research on closing the gender gap in participation and in the fields of STEM. This is what I am truly passionate about and will dedicate my life to the lessons of diversity and equity I was introduced to at TWU. There still is a place for women’s colleges as evidenced in my experience, and I aim to do my part to support the efforts of these institutions.


What do you think about all female institutions, or a school like Texas Woman’s University that isn’t all female, but still caters to women? Would you have considered attending a women’s college, if you didn’t happen to attend one? If you did, what was your experience? Would you send your daughter to a all-girls’ prep school if you were able?  Why?

Some other facts from the article:

  • The number of women’s colleges in the U.S. dropped from more than 200 in 1960 to 83 in 1993, according to a U.S. Department of Education report. Today, the Women’s College Coalition lists 47 member colleges.
  • According to the National Center for Education Statistics, collective national enrollment at women’s colleges fell from about 113,000 in 1998 to 86,000 in 2010.




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