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A place for women to grow. Going co-ed can alter women's college focus

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As more and more women's colleges find themselves considering coeducation as a remedy for dwindling enrollment and endowment, special attention is being paid to the effects of this change on the career paths of female graduates. The implications of choosing coeducation go well beyond the classroom to the nation's statehouses and corporate board rooms, researchers say.

Traditionally a driving force behind putting women in leadership positions, women's colleges may be diminishing the success of future graduates by admitting male students.

According to Elizabeth Tidball, a professor of physiology at George Washington Medical Center in Washington, D.C., women's colleges are ``superpromoters of whatever talent they get - including moderate talent that would normally never get tapped [at a co-ed college].''

Once these schools admit men, she says, a notable degree of women's talent goes unnoticed. ``They don't promote what is there.''

Dr. Tidball has found that graduates of women's colleges are more than twice as likely to achieve career or advanced educational success as their counterparts at co-ed institutions.

She concludes that admitting male students to a women's college can cause a marked reduction in the achievement of its female graduates, as determined by doctorates earned, Who's Who citations, and law or medical school admissions.

Tidball's research relates women's success to the number of female professors at a college. Female faculty and administrators act as role models for women students, who see significantly more female trustees, department heads, and presidents at women's colleges than at co-ed institutions.

According to Tidball, most women's colleges boast a nearly 50-50 male-female faculty ratio, but when an all-female institution admits male students, its share of female faculty members tends to drop to about 36 percent. (Women usually make up 23 percent of the faculty at traditionally co-ed colleges, and 16 percent at former all-men's colleges.)

In addition, Tidball says, ``Male faculty who teach at women's colleges are the most concerned about women's issues. That's going to add to the picture.''

But Frances L. Hoffmann, dean of student affairs at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., cautions that while Tidball's female faculty-female student success ratio is a significant finding, it is ``not fair to conclude that women's colleges that become co-ed automatically experience a decline in female faculty.''

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