Chatham’s decision to go co-ed poses threat to diversity of US higher-education system

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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“Founded to provide women an education comparable to other first-class institutions of the day, Chatham has advanced this cause to foster the qualities that make women natural leaders and provide opportunities for growth as leaders at every point possible.”

This message, located on Chatham University’s website, might soon change. As of Tuesday, Chatham, whose undergraduate college has restricted its applicants solely to women since the school was founded in 1869, is considering becoming a coeducational institution. Its board of trustees approved a resolution to conduct a study to research the proposition, which could lead to a board vote as early as June. If approved, men will be able to enroll by the 2015-2016 academic year.

The move to become coeducational is certainly influenced by economics and education, as the number of high school seniors choosing to attend single-sex institutions is dwindling. If Chatham begins enrolling men, the institution will be able to combat its diminishing enrollment and attract new investments to the university.

Yet, regardless of how few high school seniors choose to attend single-sex institutions, especially those strictly for women, students need to have options when choosing a college, and institutions like Chatham provide a unique opportunity for students.

Objections to this viewpoint are evident. The idea of continuing the historically entrenched concept of women-only schools is, to some, furthering the gender inequity of today’s society. In fact, many believe that these institutions further the current, outdated gender norms and expectations in today’s culture.

What’s more, some argue that attending a women-only institution isn’t necessary for the empowerment of women — a goal commonly cited by such schools in their mission statements. Postsecondary coeducational institutions have the ability to empower women as well, and many women who have been successful and prosperous have graduated from coeducational schools.

However, research — albeit sporadically indecisive in terms of quantitatively assessing socioemotional development and the concurrence of gender norms — has shown that single-sex institutions, particularly women-only schools, suffer no losses in academic accomplishments or student development, among other measurements. Women-only schools have not been proven to be any less rewarding than their coeducational counterparts, and women who have graduated from such institutions have been successful in many cases.

From a student perspective, high school seniors should have every opportunity to access a wide variety of universities. If they choose to attend a single-sex institution to gain an education that is specialized, uniquely tailored and that promotes positive academic and behavioral interactions, they should have the ability to do so. By entertaining the possibility of changing its undergraduate college to be coeducational, Chatam is limiting those choices. Evidently, coeducational institutions can provide students with perspectives and experiences that single-sex institutions do not and vice versa. But the fact that this difference exists is one of the reasons why the U.S. higher education system remains one of the world’s finest.

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