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Overview: The Gender Equation

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When women reached 40 percent of the student body at Stanford University, the school made a decision. Rather than watch the majority male culture slip away, officials simply capped the number of women admitted to the prestigious institution.

That was a century ago.

Back then, perhaps, the decisive step was an easy call. But today, American colleges and universities are facing a similar dilemma - and the answer is anything but clear-cut.

Three decades after the last bastions of elite, all-male education opened doors to the opposite sex, colleges are struggling with an unanticipated development: more women than men on campus. In some cases, women only slightly tip the balance. Elsewhere, the gender gap is dramatic enough to prompt

both male and female students to pack up tuition dollars and transfer - or never to apply at all.

A number of institutions across the United States take that possibility as a serious threat - a perception that stands in sharp contrast to that of the late-1960s and '70s, when gender gaps that favored men were considered a given at many schools. And the prospect is provoking heated debate, not only about how to attract more men, but whether to give them a leg up in admissions.

Currently, just 44 percent of American undergraduates are men. In another decade, the US Department of Education predicts, that number will slip to 42 percent.

To some observers, it's a reasonable result of the fact that women are applying in record numbers and have, overall, better high school academic credentials than men. The only action needed - particularly according to those who helped pry open the doors of opportunity to women - is to continue to decide an applicant's case on the merits, letting the gender balances tilt where they may. But to others, there's no

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