Published Online: May 27, 1998
Published in Print: May 27, 1998, as Colleges

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Last year's high school graduating class posted the highest college-enrollment rate in history, the U.S. Department of Labor reported recently.

A full 67 percent of the 2.8 million students who graduated last spring were attending college in October, according to the results of a nationwide survey conducted by the department's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The percentage of college-going graduates hovered around 62 percent from 1992 to 1995, until jumping to 65 percent in 1996.

Roughly two-thirds of the new college students were enrolled in four-year institutions last fall; the rest attended two-year colleges.

Women continued to pursue higher education at a higher rate than men, with 70 percent of female graduates enrolled in college at the time of the poll, compared with 63.5 percent of their male counterparts.

Still, last year's college-going percentage for men surpassed the previous record of 63.2 percent set in 1968, when some students enrolled in college to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam War.

For the seventh year running, women's colleges have reported increases in the number of applications they received for fall matriculation.

Roughly three-quarters of the women's colleges surveyed by the Washington-based Women's College Coalition fielded an average of 22 percent more applications than last year.

With 83 percent more applicants than last year, the 500-student Rosemont College near Philadelphia reported the steepest increase in applications of any of the schools surveyed. Chatham College, a 400-student school near Pittsburgh, followed with a 69 percent increase.

Both application and enrollment figures have risen at most of the nation's 80 women's colleges since 1992, when various studies, including the American Association of University Women's "How Schools Shortchange Girls," concluded that the education of female students in coeducational classrooms wasn't "all it was cracked up to be," said Jadwiga S. Sebrechts, the president of the coalition.

Since then, many women's colleges have more openly advertised the benefits of single-sex education in their promotional materials. A decade ago, a student skimming a pamphlet on a women's college likely would have been hard-pressed to identify it as such, Ms. Sebrechts said.

"Women's colleges have become more self-consciously women-centered," she said. "They've become increasingly proud of that identity. It's a more hospitable public that hears this now."

--JESSICA L. SANDHAM jsandham@epe.org

Vol. 17, Issue 37, Page 6

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