College started out as a boys’ club, but today, only four traditional men’s colleges remain.
For a long time, colleges were sex-segregated, meaning men went to men’s colleges and women went to women’s colleges. In 1834, Oberlin College was the first college to admit women, and soon coeducation started to catch on, with schools like Northwestern University and Washington University in St. Louis starting to admit women in 1869.
But the transition wasn’t quite so smooth. Some schools had mixed thoughts on the process. Wesleyan University changed its mind on the issue three times. In 1872, it began admitting women, but by 1912, it went back to being men only. Then, in 1972, it finally started allowing both genders again.
Other schools held out even longer when it came to admitting women. Haverford College went fully coed in 1980, while Columbia College of Columbia University didn’t start admitting women until 1983. Some schools were legally forced to permit women to attend their institutions, like Virginia Military Institute, which was involved in the United States v. Virginia Supreme Court case that resulted in the finding that it was unconstitutional for a publicly funded school to exclude women. VMI would start admitting female cadets in 1997.
Women’s Colleges Going Coed
Men’s colleges weren’t the only schools to experience a transition of going coed. During the late 1960s, prominent women’s schools like Sarah Lawrence College and Vassar College (the latter a Seven Sister school) started admitting men. Sarah Lawrence had experimented with admitting male students years prior, but it wasn’t until a wave of same-sex schools decided to go coed in the 1960s that it decided to formally announce its designation as a coed college. Vassar’s decision was based more on survival. In order to retain its name and identity, Vassar decided to go coed rather than merge with Yale University.
Men’s Colleges Today
While there are many religious men’s colleges today, including Christian and Jewish institutions, there are only four non-religious four-year men’s schools that remain active in the United States.
|B||Saint John's University||Collegeville||MN||1823||Private||Traditional|
While Morehouse College and Saint John’s University have women’s college counterparts (Spelman College and College of Saint Benedict, respectively), Hampden-Sydney and Wabash colleges are the only two non-religious stand-alone four-year colleges in the United States to admit only men.
The Decline of Men’s Colleges
There are a couple of reasons as to why men’s colleges aren’t as prevalent as they were in the early 20th century.
From a business standpoint, it’s beneficial for colleges to go coed, especially when the male-to-female ratio has increased steadily in favor of women through the years. Today, women make up 57 percent of undergraduates nationally. If a school is open to more students, it has a better chance of prospering. This works both ways, even with women’s colleges. In 2014, the president of Chatham University in Pittsburgh said that, in order for the college to survive, it must go coed since freshman class sizes had shrunk by 50 percent. With uncertain economic climates, many same-sex schools may be forced to go coed in order to save themselves.
Perhaps it’s also easier for schools to just admit women in order to avoid lawsuits and court cases, even if Deep Springs College, a two-year institution in California, has fought to keep its men-only status.
The Bottom Line
Men’s colleges may be on the brink of extinction, but with growing academic competition and uncertain economies, same-sex colleges in general may be on the decline. Like their women’s college counterparts, men’s colleges represent a part of history when the only kind of academics were segregated.