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Women Students at Coeducational and Women's Colleges: How Do Their Experiences Compare?

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This study compared the experiences of women attending women's colleges with those of women attending coeducational institutions. Analyses of data from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) from random samples of female first-year and senior students from 26 women's colleges and 264 other four-year institutions were conducted. Women at single-sex institutions were more engaged in effective educational practices and reported higher levels of feelings of support and greater gains in college. With regard to the effect of different backgrounds on college experiences, transfer students at women's colleges were as engaged or more engaged than students who start at and graduate from the same school, and students of color tended to be less engaged than White students.
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MARCH/APRIL 2007 UVOL 48 NO 2 145
Women Students at Coeducational and Women’s
Colleges: How Do Their Experiences Compare?
Jillian Kinzie Auden D. Thomas Megan M. Palmer
Paul D. Umbach George D. Kuh
This study compared the experiences of women
attending women’s colleges with those of women
attending coeducational institutions. Analyses of
data from the National Survey of Student
Engagement (NSSE) from random samples of
female first-year and senior students from 26
women’s colleges and 264 other four-year
institutions were conducted. Women at single-sex
institutions were more engaged in effective
educational practices and reported higher levels
of feelings of support and greater gains in college.
With regard to the effect of different backgrounds
on college experiences, transfer students at
women’s colleges were as engaged or more engaged
than students who start at and graduate from the
same school, and students of color tended to be
less engaged than White students.
Are women’s colleges as rich with educational
opportunity for their students as their propo-
nents claim? Or, is the quality of womens
educational experience across institutional
types equivalent now that women outnumber
and typically outperform men on coeduca-
tional campuses? Few question the valuable
role that women’s colleges played in the history
of American higher education. From its
beginnings as an enterprise established by men
for men, to early experiments in coeducation
marked by isolating women and limiting their
participation in university life (Miller-Bernal,
2000; Nidiffer, 2001; Solomon, 1985), women
were an afterthought. Given this historical
legacy, it is remarkable that today women
outnumber and in many respects perform
better than their male counterparts. In fact,
they have comprised the majority of under-
graduates for more than 2 decades (National
Center for Education Statistics, 2006).
Moreover, women are more likely than their
male peers to hold high educational aspirations,
to enroll in college, and to persist to degree
attainment (Bae, Choy, Geddes, Sable, &
Snyder, 2000). Though impressive, womens
gains in numerical representation and achieve-
ment may mask more complex issues of gender
inequity in the academy.
Despite the advances made by women in
higher education, women still face gendered
norms and expectations that constrain their
choice of field of study and occupation and
consequently perpetuate tangible inequities
including lower wages, underemployment, and
segregated occupations (see Nelson & Rogers,
2004; U.S. Department of Labor, 2003). Since
1982, when Hall and Sandler reported a chilly
campus climate for female undergraduates, the
quality of the learning environment for women
at coeducational colleges and universities has
been a topic of justified concern. Though
evidence supporting the chilly campus climate
thesis is somewhat limited, what does exist
Jillian Kinzie is Associate Director of the Center for Postsecondary Research at Indiana University Bloomington.
Auden D. Thomas is Director of the Center for Survey Research at Pennsylvania State University–Harrisburg. Megan
M. Palmer is Executive Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Indiana University Purdue University
Indianapolis. Paul D. Umbach is Assistant Professor of Higher Education at University of Iowa. George D. Kuh is
Chancellor’s Professor and Director of the Center for Postsecondary Research at Indiana University Bloomington.
146 Journal of College Student Development
Kinzie, Thomas, Palmer, Umbach, & Kuh
suggests that compared with men, many
women perceive their campus to be less
supportive of their academic and social needs
and that, as a result, their learning and personal
development is adversely affected (Drew &
Work, 1998; Pascarella et al., 1997; Rice,
1991). For example, Pascarella and his col-
leagues found a handful of moderately sized
negative relationships between perceptions of
chilly campus climate and selected intellectual
and personal development outcomes (Pascarella
et al., 1997). This pattern persisted through
the junior year, wherein students who perceived
their campus climate to be “chilly” had lower
gains in writing and thinking skills, science
knowledge, and arts and humanities knowledge
(Whitt, Edison, Pascarella, Nora, & Terenzini,
1999).
Female students have been and continue
to be underrepresented in positions of leader-
ship on coeducational campuses (Astin, 1993).
In part, this may be because women students
have qualitatively different leadership styles
and experiences during college (Astin, 1993;
Kezar & Moriarty, 2000; Whitt, 1994). In
addition, women who might serve as role
models are underrepresented in senior admini-
strative and faculty positions (Nidiffer &
Bashaw, 2001). As these and other micro-
inequities accrue over time, they have “a
damaging cumulative effect, creating an
environment that dampens women’s self-
esteem, confidence, aspirations and their
participation” (Sandler, n.d. ¶ 1). Such
inequities are especially marked in areas where
women are underrepresented, such as science,
mathematics, and technology (Davis et al.,
1996; Nelson & Rogers, 2004; Knapp, Kelly,
Whitmore, Wu, Gallego, & Grau, E, 2001).
In these instances, the paltry proportions of
women students in classes contribute to
women’s feelings of lack of belonging as
learners and to discomfort in the learning
environment. This is particularly true for re-
entry women (Hayes & Flannery, 2000) and
women of color (Wolf-Wendel, 1998) who are
more likely to feel like outsiders because, on
the majority of college campuses, their numbers
remain relatively small. With coeducational
colleges and universities enrolling 98% of all
female students, the learning climate for
women collegians on these campuses warrants
continuous monitoring, especially compared
with women’s colleges, which a considerable
body of research suggests provide numerous
educational and personal development ad-
vantages for their students.
Indeed, single-sex educational environ-
ments have been hailed as “models of what
institutions dedicated to women can mean
(Smith, 1989, p. 50). With a long history of
providing women access to higher education,
the nation’s 68 womens colleges trumpet
“taking womens education seriously” as a core
institutional value. Advocates of women’s
colleges point to research studies that show
these institutions provide a qualitatively
superior learning environment for their
students (Astin, 1993; Riordan, 1994; Sharp,
1991; Tidball, Smith, Tidball, & Wolf-Wendel,
1999; Whitt, 1994). For example, women
attending women’s colleges are 1.5 times more
likely to earn baccalaureate degrees in the life
and physical sciences or math than women at
coeducational institutions (Sebrechts, 1992;
Sharpe & Fuller, 1995). Compared with their
counterparts at coeducational colleges and
universities, women attending women’s
colleges exhibit greater gains in such cognitive
areas as academic and intellectual development
(Astin, 1993; Baxter Magolda, 1992); academic
involvement (National Survey of Student
Engagement [NSSE], 2003; Smith, 1990;
Smith, Wolf, & Morrison, 1995); intellectual
self-confidence (Kim, 2002); and self-perceived
academic ability (Kim & Alvarez, 1995). The
less paternalistic culture and rituals character-
istic of women’s colleges provide students more
MARCH/APRIL 2007 UVOL 48 NO 2 147
Womens Experiences
support to assume leadership, reward collective
achievements, and move beyond traditional
gender roles (Manning, 1994, 2000). Women
at women’s colleges also evidence gains in
noncognitive outcomes in such areas as self-
esteem and confidence (Astin, 1977; Holland
& Eisenhart, 1990; Smith et al., 1995) and
leadership development (Astin, 1993; Astin &
Leland, 1991; Whitt, 1994). Finally, students
at women’s colleges are more satisfied overall
with their college experience (Langdon, 2001;
NSSE, 2003; Smith, 1990) and with their
interactions with faculty (Astin, 1977, 1993;
Smith, 1990). The lone exception to this litany
of positive outcomes is that students at
women’s colleges tend to be less satisfied with
the quality of social life their campuses afford
(Astin, 1993; Smith, 1990; Smith et al.,
1995).
Tidball’s (1973, 1980, 1985, 1986)
extensive body of widely cited baccalaureate
origin research suggests a positive relationship
between attendance at a women’s college and
alumnae career attainment. Women’s college
alumnae were more likely to be women
“achievers,” defined as those recognized in
Who’s Who in America. Tidball also found a
positive relationship between women achievers
and the percentage of women on the faculty.
Tidball, and more current research by others
(Riordan, 1994; Tidball et al., 1999; Wolf-
Wendel, 1998), found that women’s colleges
produced more graduates who attained doctor-
ates in nontraditional fields than did coedu-
cational colleges. Women graduating from
women’s colleges were more likely than women
graduating from coeducational institutions to
attain the doctorate in a wider range of major
fields, such as science, arts, humanities, and
social sciences, whereas coeducational women
graduates were likely to earn a doctorate in
fewer fields, and were particularly well
represented in traditionally female fields
including education.
Although Tidball’s research faced challenges
(Crosby et. al., 1994; Giele, 1987; Stoecker &
Pascarella, 1991) on the basis that it did not
control for student and institutional back-
ground characteristics, subsequent studies
(Astin, 1993; Riordan, 1992; Smith et al.,
1995; Wolf-Wendel, 1998; Wolf-Wendel,
Baker, & Morphew, 2000) that controlled for
respondents’ socioeconomic backgrounds
and/or institutional selectivity confirmed
Tidball’s original assertions that women’s
colleges contribute to the disproportionate
success of their students. Assuming that
women attending single-sex colleges enjoy
educational and personal development advan-
tages, there remains a good deal to learn about
the policies and practices that make these
institutions distinctively powerful learning
environments for their students.
Riordan (1994) observed that the impact
of single-sex education is still “an unresolved
empirical question” (p. 487). After reviewing
the literature, Harwarth (1999) concluded
there was a lack of diversity in the quantitative
data available to fairly judge the efficacy of
women’s colleges and called for additional
studies that used new databases. For example,
many of the more prominent studies of the
experiences of women at women’s colleges,
such as those by Astin (1977, 1993), Smith
(1990), Smith, Morrison & Wolf (1994),
Smith et al. (1995), and Kim & Alvarez
(1995), rely on the same data sources, UCLA’s
Cooperative Institutional Research Program
Freshman Survey and College Student Survey.
Although these studies have contributed
greatly to our understanding of women’s
colleges, it supports Harwarth’s (1999)
assertion that scholars are “examining the same
database over and over and reaching the same
conclusions” (p. 14). Perhaps a new database
will add to the richness of previous research
by providing additional information about the
unique educational experiences women have
148 Journal of College Student Development
Kinzie, Thomas, Palmer, Umbach, & Kuh
at women’s colleges. In addition, because
women are not a monolithic group and their
experiences differ (Hurtado, Carter, & Kardia,
1998; Sandler, Silverberg, & Hall, 1996), more
research is needed on the impact of college
environments on student learning outcomes
for all women (Whitt et al., 1999).
Purpose of the Study
In this study we compared the experiences of
women attending women’s colleges with those
of women attending coeducational institu-
tions. Two research questions guided the
inquiry:
1. Do women’s colleges differ from coedu-
cational institutions in terms of students’
satisfaction with their experiences, the
nature and frequency of interactions with
peers and faculty members, and partici-
pation in a variety of educationally
purposeful activities associated with
desired college outcomes?
2. Do students at women’s colleges from
different backgrounds (e.g., transfers,
women of color) differ in terms of their
college experiences?
METHODS
To determine the ways that women’s colleges
differ from comparable coeducational insti-
tutions in terms of students’ satisfaction with
their experiences, interaction with peers and
faculty members, educational gains, and
participation in a variety of activities associated
with desired college outcomes, data from the
NSSE were used. The NSSE measures these
aspects of the undergraduate experience on an
annual basis, collecting data from randomly
selected first-year and senior students at
hundreds of U.S. four-year colleges and
universities. Institutions choosing to partici-
pate in NSSE closely resemble the national
profile of four-year colleges and universities in
terms of region of the country and location,
and Carnegie classification (with slightly more
Doctoral/Research Universities and Baccalau-
reate Colleges-Liberal Arts as defined by the
2000 Carnegie Classification of Institutions
of Higher Education). The average response
rate for both paper and Web-based survey
administrations is about 41%.
The NSSE data set was selected for two
reasons. First, NSSE is one of the most
comprehensive surveys of the student experi-
ence to date. Given that we designed our
research questions to offer an in-depth
examination of women’s educational experi-
ences in college, NSSE provides an excellent
data source. Second, the NSSE data set has an
unusually large number of women’s institu-
tions represented. Twenty-six of the 68
women’s institutions are included in the 2000,
2001, and 2002 NSSE data set. Few, if any
researchers have included as many women’s
colleges as we have in this study.
Research on the college student experience
suggests that students learn more when they
are engaged at reasonably high levels in a
variety of educationally purposeful activities
(Astin, 1984; Kuh, Douglas, Lund, & Ramin-
Gyurnek, 1994; Kuh, Schuh, Whitt & Asso-
ciates, 1991; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991,
2005; Tinto, 1987). Student engagement,
which NSSE measures, represents two critical
features. The first is the amount of time and
effort students put into their studies and other
educationally purposeful activities traditionally
associated with learning, such as reading and
writing, preparing for class, collaborating with
peers on projects, problem-solving tasks,
community service, and interacting with
instructors about various matters (Kuh, 2001).
The second is how the institution deploys its
resources and organizes the curriculum, other
learning opportunities, and support services
to induce students to participate in activities
that lead to the experiences and desired
MARCH/APRIL 2007 UVOL 48 NO 2 149
Women’s Experiences
outcomes (persistence, satisfaction, learning,
and graduation). Research shows that engage-
ment in educationally purposeful activities
contributes to high levels of learning and
personal development (Pascarella &Terenzini,
1991, 2005). Indeed, participating in educa-
tionally purposeful activities directly influences
the quality of students’ learning and their
overall educational experience.
NSSE was specifically designed to assess
the extent to which students are engaged in
empirically derived good educational practices
and what they gain from their college experience
(Kuh, 2001). The good educational practices
that NSSE measures were derived from
Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) principles
for good practice in undergraduate education.
A significant body of evidence exists to support
the predictive validity of these principles
(Astin, 1993; Kuh et al., 1991; Pascarella &
Terenzini, 1991, 2005). Although NSSE
doesn’t assess student learning outcomes
directly, the main content of the NSSE
instrument, The College Student Report,
represents student behaviors that are highly
correlated with many desirable learning and
personal development outcomes of college.
The sample for this study consisted of
42,112 female first-year and senior students
who completed the NSSE in Spring, 2000,
2001, or 2002. By combining three years of
data we have a robust sample from women’s
colleges. Two hundred ninety different four-
year colleges and universities were represented,
including 4,676 women at 26 women’s colleges
and the remainder at 264 other institutions
from the same Carnegie categories as the
women’s colleges (private Master’s I and II
Universities, Liberal Arts Colleges, and
Baccalaureate General Colleges). Wom en’s
colleges looked only slightly different than the
coeducational institutions. In terms of Carnegie
Classification, approximately 46% of the
women’s colleges were classified as Baccalau-
reate-Liberal Arts, whereas only 32% of the
coeducational colleges were classified as Bacca-
laureate-Liberal Arts. Master’s institutions were
over-represented among coeducational colleges
(45% compared to 35% for women’s colleges).
According to Barrons Profiles of American
Colleges (2003), 42% of the coeducational
colleges and 31% of the women’s colleges were
considered very competitive, highly competi-
tive, or most competitive in terms of selectivity.
It is important to use similar coeducational
examples for comparison purposes. Neither of
the two existing historically Black colleges
serving women in the U.S. is included in this
study and only one of the remaining five
Seven Sistercolleges are represented among
the women’s colleges.
Data Analysis
The data were analyzed in two stages. First,
we built models to examine the engagement
of first-year and senior women at coeducational
institutions and at women’s colleges. We
elected to conduct separate analyses for first-
year and senior students because students’
experiences on the kinds of activities NSSE
measures, such as the extent to which they
interact with faculty to discuss career plans, or
degree to which they experience coursework
emphasizing higher order thinking, usually
differ between first-year students—students
who are relatively new to the college or
university—as compared to seniors (Kuh,
2003a, 2005). For example, seniors typically
report greater overall gains than first-year
students (Kuh, 2003a; NSSE, 2003, 2004).
Differences in the engagement levels of seniors
and first-year students emphasize the impor-
tance of running separate models. Because of
the nested nature of the data and the intent to
estimate institutional effects (Raudenbush &
Bryk, 2002), we used hierarchical linear
modeling (HLM). Underlying our analysis was
the assumption that institutions have a
150 Journal of College Student Development
Kinzie, Thomas, Palmer, Umbach, & Kuh
differential impact on the student experience.
In other words, students were nested within
institutions. Given this notion of nesting, we
can no longer assert that our observations are
independent from one another, which is a
fundamental assumption in ordinary least
squares (OLS) regression, because two students
from one institution are more likely to have
similar collegiate experiences compared with
two students from different institutions. To
overcome the problems faced with nested data,
we employed HLM.
Using HLM also has several advantages
over OLS regression. First, HLM allows for
the partitioning of variance between the
institution and the student, allowing for more
accurate estimates. In other words, HLM
allows for us to determine what variance can
be attributed to the individual and what
variance can be attributed to the institution.
We can then model these simultaneously. In
OLS, the variance cannot be accurately
partitioned, thereby making it difficult to
attribute what is an individual level effect or
a group level effect. By allowing the intercept
to vary in HLM, we were able to partition the
variance and model institutional averages using
group-level characteristics.
Second, the inclusion of group-level
variables into an OLS regression equation
resulted in the misestimation of standard errors
and the wrong number of degrees of freedom.
For example, if we included a womens college
variable, our degrees of freedom would be
based incorrectly on 42,112 respondents, when
in fact it should be based on 290 institutions
in our data. In our example, the probability of
making a Type I error (i.e., finding significance
when actually the findings were insignificant)
is much greater if we were to use OLS to esti-
mate the women’s college effect. Finally, because
HLM takes into account the within school
sample size through weighting, it was unneces-
sary to equalize the sample size across schools.
To aid in interpretation of coefficients, all
of the findings of our HLM analyses are
displayed as effect sizes. Effect sizes are useful
when assessing the magnitude of the relation-
ship between a dependent and independent
variable. An effect size is the proportion of a
standard deviation change in the dependent
variable as a result of a one-unit change in an
independent variable. When we standardize
all of the continuous measures (both inde-
pendent and dependent) in our models, the
unstandardized coefficients represent effect
sizes. An effect size of .10 or less is considered
trivial, between .10 and .30 is small, between
.30 and .50 is moderate, and greater than .50
is large (Rosenthal & Rosnow, 1991).
We conducted our modeling in two stages.
First, we built separate models for first-year
and senior students using the 42,112 at 290
institutions. Because we were interested in
understanding the average effect of attending
a women’s college, we allowed the intercept to
vary and included a dummy-coded variable at
Level 2 (the institution level) that represented
women’s colleges. We also included controls
at both the institution and student level. These
controls represent known influences on the
impact of college (Pascarella & Terenzini,
2005). At the student level, we controlled for
race and ethnicity, age, enrollment status,
transfer status, and major field. At the
institution level we controlled for institution
type, urban location, selectivity (derived from
Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges, 2003),
size, and proportion of full-time students.
Thus, the coefficient for the women’s college
variable represents the average difference
between women’s colleges and coeducational
colleges controlling for both individual and
institution level characteristics. Detailed
operational definitions of these variables are
available on request from the fifth author.
Second, we built hierarchical linear models
using only students from the 26 women’s
MARCH/APRIL 2007 UVOL 48 NO 2 151
Women’s Experiences
colleges to explore individual differences in
engagement within those institutions. With
only 26 institutions in this analysis we could
not use group level measures. However, we
allowed the intercept to vary, thereby parti-
tioning the variance that could be attributed
to the institution. Again, we constructed
models for both first-year and senior students.
Multiple dependent measures of student
engagement were used. Table 1 displays the
factor loadings and alpha reliabilities for the
dependent measures, ranging from .59 to .80.
We created nine scales, including three
subscales, to represent engagement. Academic
challenge is composed of 10 items that measure
reading, writing, and time spent preparing for
class. Higher order thinking is a subscale of
academic challenge made up of four measures
based on Bloom’s taxonomy (time spent syn-
thesizing ideas, making judgments, applying
theories, and analyzing ideas) that describe the
nature of the cognitive activities emphasized
in classes. Integration measures the degree to
which institutions emphasize activities that
foreshadow deep learning (e.g., discussions of
ideas from readings or classes with faculty
members or others outside of class, working
on a paper or project that required integrating
ideas or information from various sources).
The active and collaborative learning measure
has seven items (e.g., working with other
students in and out of class, asking questions
in class, making a class presentation). Student-
faculty interaction is a five-item scale covering
a range of contacts inside and outside the
classroom. Experiences with diversity is a
three-item scale that measures student inter-
actions with people of different backgrounds
and the emphasis a campus places on encour-
aging these interactions.
We also created scales from NSSE items
to measure students’ perceptions of the degree
to which their school provided support for
their academic and social development.
Supportive campus climate is a six-item
construct that measures student perceptions
of institutional support and the quality of rela-
tionships among students, faculty members,
and administrators. Two supportive campus
climate subscales were created, interpersonal
support, and support for success. Interpersonal
support is a three-item measure of the quality
of student relationships with faculty, staff, and
other students. Support for success is a three-
item scale that represents students’ beliefs
about campus support for academic and
nonacademic success. Satisfaction is measured
with two items.
We included student self-reported gains
in our analyses, because many claims about
the superiority of women’s colleges are related
to the degree to which students benefit
intellectually and socially from the experience.
One self-reported gains measure is a four-item
scale that focuses on general education
outcomes (e.g., general education, writing,
speaking, and critical thinking). A four-item
scale represents student gains in understanding
self and others. Of the two single-item gains
measures, one represents quantitative skills and
the other, one’s willingness to contribute to
the welfare of the community. The former is
of interest because of the literature that
suggests that women at women’s colleges are
more likely to excel and pursue graduate study
in mathematics and science than women who
attend coeducational colleges. The latter
reflects the emphasis that women’s colleges give
to community service as an educational value
in the curriculum.
Before running our models, we estimated
the proportion of variance explained by college
membership (between-college variance) and
individuals (within-school variance) by running
the null model. Table 2 shows these estimates.
The proportion of variance between institu-
tions is somewhat small, ranging from .02 to
.12. Given these nontrivial proportions and
152 Journal of College Student Development
Kinzie, Thomas, Palmer, Umbach, & Kuh
TABLE 1.
'HSHQGHQW9DULDEOHV)DFWRU/RDGLQJVDQG$OSKD&RHI¿FLHQWV
Factor Loadings
1st Year Senior
Student Engagement Scales and Itemsa
Academic Challenge (A= .73) (A= .72)
Worked harder than you thought you could to meet an instructor’s standards or expectations 0.50 0.53
Preparing for class 0.40 0.43
Number of assigned textbooks, books, or book-length packs of course readings 0.40 0.36
Number of written papers or reports of 20 pages or more 0.36 0.34
Number of written papers or reports of 19 pages or less 0.38 0.33
 (PSKDVL]H6SHQGLQJVLJQL¿FDQWDPRXQWVRIWLPHVWXG\LQJDQGRQDFDGHPLFZRUN  
Coursework emphasizes: Analyzing the basic elements of an idea, experience, or theory 0.71 0.73
Coursework emphasizes: Synthesizing and organizing ideas, information, or experiences 0.76 0.77
Coursework emphasizes: Making judgments about the value of information,
arguments, or methods 0.70 0.71
Coursework emphasizes: Applying theories or concepts to practical problems or
in new situations 0.67 0.70
Higher Order Thinking (A= .79) (A= .80)
Coursework emphasizes: Synthesizing and organizing ideas, information, or experiences 0.82 0.82
Coursework emphasizes: Making judgments about the value of information, arguments,
or methods 0.79 0.78
Coursework emphasizes: Applying theories or concepts to practical problems or in new
situations 0.75 0.77
Coursework emphasizes: Analyzing the basic elements of an idea, experience, or theory 0.77 0.78
Integration (A= .69) (A= .71)
Worked on a paper or project that required integrating ideas or information
from various sources 0.65 0.65
Put together ideas or concepts from different courses when completing assignments or
during class discussions 0.69 0.69
Discussed ideas from your readings or classes with faculty members outside of class 0.68 0.68
Discussed ideas from your readings or classes with others outside of class
(students, family members, coworkers, etc.) 0.69 0.69
Active and Collaborative Learning (A= .61) (A= .59)
Asked questions in class or contributed to class discussions 0.50 0.56
Made a class presentation 0.68 0.58
Participated in a community-based project as part of a regular course 0.52 0.44
Worked with other students on projects during class 0.54 0.47
Worked with classmates outside of class to prepare class assignments 0.65 0.62
Tutored or taught other students 0.45 0.55
Discussed ideas from your readings or classes with others outside of class 0.46 0.53
Student-Faculty Interaction (A= .76) (A= .73)
Discussed grades or assignments with an instructor 0.72 0.72
Talked about career plans with a faculty member or advisor 0.79 0.74
Discussed ideas from your readings or classes with faculty members outside of class 0.79 0.76
Received prompt feedback from faculty on your academic performance 0.63 0.62
Worked with faculty members on activities other than coursework 0.65 0.61
table continues
MARCH/APRIL 2007 UVOL 48 NO 2 153
Women’s Experiences
Diversity Experiences (A= .64) (A= .63)
Had serious conversations with students of a different race or ethnicity than your own 0.67 0.66
Contributed to: Understanding people of other racial and ethnic backgrounds 0.82 0.82
Emphasize: Encouraging contact among students from different economic, social,
and racial/ethnic backgrounds 0.79 0.79
Supportive Campus Climateb
Supportive Campus Environment (A= .78) (A= .79)
Emphasize: Providing the support you need to help you succeed academically 0.74 0.72
Emphasize: Helping you cope with your nonacademic responsibilities 0.75 0.74
Emphasize: Providing the support you need to thrive socially 0.76 0.76
Quality: Your relationships with other students 0.53 0.58
Quality: Your relationships with faculty members 0.71 0.72
 4XDOLW\<RXUUHODWLRQVKLSVZLWKDGPLQLVWUDWLYHSHUVRQQHODQGRI¿FHV  
Interpersonal Support (A= .61) (A= .67)
Quality: Your relationships with other students 0.67 0.67
Quality: Your relationships with faculty members 0.81 0.83
 4XDOLW\<RXUUHODWLRQVKLSVZLWKDGPLQLVWUDWLYHSHUVRQQHODQGRI¿FHV  
Support for Success (A= .73) (A= .76)
Emphasize: Providing the support you need to help you succeed academically 0.75 0.74
Emphasize: Helping you cope with your nonacademic responsibilities 0.87 0.87
Emphasize: Providing the support you need to thrive socially 0.85 0.86
Satisfaction (A= .80) (A= .79)
How would you evaluate your entire educational experience at this institution? 0.91 0.91
If you could start over again, would you go to the same institution you are now attending? 0.91 0.91
Self-Reported Gains
Understanding Self and Others (A= .74) (A= .75)
Contributed to: Working effectively with others 0.72 0.74
Contributed to: Learning effectively on your own 0.77 0.74
Contributed to: Understanding yourself 0.81 0.81
Contributed to: Understanding people of other racial and ethnic backgrounds 0.71 0.73
General Education (A= .77) (A= .79)
Contributed to: Acquiring a broad general education 0.67 0.68
Contributed to: Writing clearly and effectively 0.85 0.84
Contributed to: Speaking clearly and effectively 0.83 0.80
Contributed to: Thinking critically and analytically 0.80 0.81
Note. NSSE survey instrument is available: http://nsse.iub.edu/html/sample.cfm
a Response scale for most NSSE items is typically a 4-point scale ranging from 1 (never or very little)to4(very often or very much).
b Response scale for quality of relationship items is a 7-point scale ranging from 1 (unfriendly)to7(friendly, supportive).
TABLE 1. continued
'HSHQGHQW9DULDEOHV)DFWRU/RDGLQJVDQG$OSKD&RHI¿FLHQWV
Factor Loadings
1st Year Senior
154 Journal of College Student Development
Kinzie, Thomas, Palmer, Umbach, & Kuh
that our research questions were focused on
both college-level and individual-level effects,
we proceeded with our analyses using HLM.
RESULTS
Women’s Colleges and
Coeducational Colleges
Table 3 shows the results of the hierarchical
linear models comparing student engagement
at women’s and coeducational colleges. Note
that developing practice within HLM method-
ology is to interpret significance at .10, because
HLM tests of significance at the group level
are conducted using the appropriate degrees
of freedom (N= 290), and when there is prior
evidence in the literature regarding the effect
(Lee & Byrk, 1989; Lee & Smith, 1997;
Mayer, 1998). In this study we interpret three
levels of significance: .10, .05, and .01. We
mention four variables that are significant at
the .10 level because they have been identified
as having an effect in prior literature and have
reasonable, though small, effect sizes in this
study.
In general, women at single-sex colleges
are more engaged than women at coeduca-
tional institutions. After controlling for both
individual and institutional characteristics,
both first-year and senior women attending
women’s colleges reported higher levels of
academic challenge. Especially noteworthy is
that seniors at women’s colleges were more
likely to engage in higher order thinking
activities than seniors at coeducational insti-
tutions. Similarly, both seniors and first-year
students at women’s colleges scored higher on
active and collaborative learning and student-
faculty interaction than their counterparts at
coeducational institutions. Additionally, both
TABLE 2.
Results From HLM: Proportion of Variance Within and Between Institutions
1st-Year Students Senior Students
Dependent Variable Within Between Within Between
Engagement
Academic challenge 0.94 0.06 0.93 0.07
Higher order thinking 0.95 0.05 0.96 0.04
Active and collaborative learning 0.95 0.05 0.94 0.06
Student-faculty interaction 0.95 0.05 0.93 0.07
Integration 0.93 0.07 0.92 0.08
Diversity-related activities 0.88 0.12 0.89 0.11
Supportive Campus Climate
Supportive campus environment 0.97 0.03 0.96 0.04
Interpersonal support 0.96 0.04 0.95 0.05
Support for success 0.98 0.02 0.97 0.03
Satisfaction 0.97 0.03 0.97 0.03
Self-Reported Gains
Understanding self and others 0.92 0.08 0.92 0.08
General education 0.95 0.06 0.93 0.07
Analyzing quantitative problems 0.91 0.09 0.92 0.08
Contributing to welfare of community 0.96 0.04 0.96 0.04
MARCH/APRIL 2007 UVOL 48 NO 2 155
Women’s Experiences
first-year students and seniors at women’s
colleges were more likely to engage in inte-
grative activities that lead to deep learning.
The largest observed difference was related to
experiences with diversity. Both first-year
students and seniors at women’s colleges
reported that their campus environment
encouraged and supported diverse interactions
and an understanding of diversity to a greater
degree than women at coeducational schools.
Nevertheless, students’ perceptions of
other aspects of the campus environment are
somewhat mixed. For example, women attend-
ing the two categories of institutions did not
differ in terms of their perceptions of the
overall campus environment. However, seniors
at women’s colleges perceived a lower level of
interpersonal support compared with their
counterparts at coeducational schools, whereas
first-year students at women’s colleges perceived
greater support for success. No differences were
found in terms of student satisfaction.
In terms of gains, women’s college respon-
dents reported making more progress in every
measure tested. Specifically, women’s college
students indicated greater gains in under-
standing themselves and others, general
education, ability to analyze quantitative
problems, and desire to contribute to the
welfare of their community.
Within Women’s College Differences
Engagement in Effective Educational Practices.
Table 4 shows individual-level results from the
within women’s college models of student
engagement. Some race- and ethnicity-related
differences were found in engagement in
effective educational practices. In the senior
year, African American and Asian Pacific
American (APA) students reported fewer
interactions with faculty compared with White
students. APA seniors were also less likely than
White seniors to participate in active and
collaborative learning activities and first-year
APA students scored lower on academic
challenge. Both first-year and senior APA
students indicated less involvement in inte-
gration activities than Whites.
We also observed differences related to
major field for seniors. Except for active and
collaborative learning, students at women’s
colleges majoring in the social sciences appear
to be the most engaged, reporting the highest
level of academic challenge, experiences with
higher order mental activities, and diversity
experiences. Students in professional programs
scored high on the active and collaborative
TABLE 3.
Effect Sizes From HLM:
Comparing Women’s Colleges to
Coeducational Institutions
1st-Year Senior
Dependent Variable Students Students
Engagement
Academic challenge 0.100.12*
Higher order thinking 0.08 0.13*
Active and collaborative
learning 0.14** 0.16**
Student-faculty interaction 0.18** 0.09
Integration 0.16** 0.17**
Diversity-related activities 0.31** 0.27**
Supportive Campus Climate
Supportive campus
environment 0.06 –0.03
Interpersonal support –0.02 –0.08*
Support for success 0.11*0.01
Satisfaction 0.01 0.02
Self-reported Gains
Understanding self and
others 0.16** 0.11*
General education 0.11*0.08
Analyzing quantitative
problems 0.09*0.12**
Contributing to welfare
of community 0.13** 0.08
p< .10. *p< .05. **p< .01.
156 Journal of College Student Development
Kinzie, Thomas, Palmer, Umbach, & Kuh
TABLE 4.
Effect Sizes From HLM: Student Engagement Among Students at Women’s Colleges
Academic Higher Order Active & Student-Faculty Experiences
Challenge Activities Collaborative Interaction Integration with Diversity
FY SR FY SR FY SR FY SR FY SR FY SR
African American 0.01 0.02 0.04 0.07 0.07 0.07 0.07 –0.15*–0.05 –0.06 –0.08 –0.09
Native American –0.32 0.09 –0.27 0.10 0.21 0.42 –0.04 0.54 –0.39 0.23 0.02 0.13
Asian –0.14*–0.03 –0.14 –0.01 –0.30 –0.17† –0.10 –0.21† –0.27** –0.29** –0.05 0.09
Latina 0.140.06 0.17 –0.14 0.19 0.28*0.08 0.17 –0.04 0.08 0.18 0.10
Other race –0.10 –0.57 0.00 –0.44*0.34** –0.10 0.11 –0.32 –0.19 – 0.11 0.17 0.02
Age 0.03 –0.01** 0.01 –0.05*0.01 –0.03 –0.05† –0.06 0.00 0.02 0.03 0.00
Major-Humanities –0.10 –0.29 –0.11 –0.37** –0.04 –0.11** 0.11 0.09 0.04 0.06 0.23** –0.24**
Major-Math
and Science 0.06 –0.34** 0.08 –0.26** 0.12 0.01 0.16† 0.02 0.07 –0.23** 0.16† –0.27**
Major-Professional –0.02 –0.16** –0.03 –0.15*0.05 0.20** 0.05 –0.20** –0.10 –0.24** 0.14*–0.32**
Major-Other –0.05 –0.11** –0.04 –0.10*0.06 0.16*0.14*0.06 –0.04 –0.02 0.11† –0.15*
Greek 0.03 0.13*0.04 0.17*0.29† 0.28** 0.14 0.26** 0.19 0.15*0.35** 0.16*
Full-time 0.58** 0.51 0.32** 0.29** 0.46** 0.07*0.36** 0.46** 0.51** 0.39** 0.16† 0.23**
Transfer –0.04 0.10** –0.06 0.06 0.14† –0.04 0.17† –0.10 0.18*0.01 0.00 –0.01
Note. Race-ethnicity reference group = White; Major reference group = Social science; FY = First-year students and SR = Senior students.
p< .10. *p< .05. **p< .01.
MARCH/APRIL 2007 UVOL 48 NO 2 157
Women’s Experiences
learning measure. However, these same
students reported the lowest frequency of
contacts with faculty members and experiences
with diversity. Further, seniors in professional
programs, math, and science scored the lowest
on engagement in integration activities.
Contrary to national findings that show
transfer students are generally less engaged
overall (Kuh, 2003b), transfer students at
women’s colleges were as engaged as those who
started at and were about to graduate from the
same women’s college. In some instances they
were more engaged. For example, senior
transfer students reported higher levels of
academic challenge and first-year transfer
students reported more integrative experiences.
Although some first-year students may have
only spent a short time at another institution
prior to transferring, these findings are
noteworthy.
Supportive Campus Climate. Table 5
displays models predicting women’s college
students’ perceptions of their campus climate
and overall satisfaction. As with engagement,
transfer students perceived levels of support
comparable to other students on all four
measures. Compared with White women,
senior African American students reported
significantly less support, and a moderate effect
size resulted for the interpersonal support scale.
Also, both first-year and senior African
American students were less satisfied than
TABLE 5.
Effect Sizes From HLM: Supportive Environment Among Students
at Women’s Colleges
Supportive Interpersonal Support for
Campus Climate Support Success Satisfaction
FY SR FY SR FY SR FY SR
African American –0.10 –0.15** –0.02 –0.34** 0.07 0.03 –0.30** –0.23*
Native American 0.11 0.06 –0.05 0.03 0.47 0.08 –0.02 0.20
Asian –0.01 0.04 –0.06 –0.08 0.02 0.12 –0.21*–0.30**
Latina 0.09 0.11 0.22 –0.03 0.06 0.19 –0.15 –0.01
Other race 0.17 –0.25 0.08 –0.23 0.30 –0.23 0.10 –0.30
Age 0.10*0.02 –0.03 0.13*–0.04 –0.06 0.09** 0.13**
Major-Humanities 0.24** –0.07 0.17*–0.03 –0.01 –0.07 0.17*–0.02
Major-Math and
Science 0.14–0.07 0.13 0.06 –0.09 –0.15 0.05 –0.17*
Major-Professional 0.17*–0.21** 0.10 –0.13–0.03 –0.23** 0.11 –0.19**
Major-Other 0.11*–0.05 0.07 0.01 –0.01 –0.09 0.06 –0.05
Greek 0.24*0.24** 0.33** 0.120.18 0.29** 0.29** 0.23**
Full-time 0.14 0.16*0.14 0.130.22*0.130.13 0.13
Transfer –0.04 –0.05 0.03 –0.07 0.09 –0.04 0.06 –0.02
Note. Race-ethnicity reference group = White; Major reference group = Social science; FY = First-year students
and SR = Senior students.
p< .10. *p< .05. **p< .01.
158 Journal of College Student Development
Kinzie, Thomas, Palmer, Umbach, & Kuh
White students. In addition, APA students at
women’s colleges were less satisfied than their
White counterparts.
As with the engagement measures, students’
perceptions of the campus climate differed by
major field. Seniors in professional majors had
somewhat less positive views of the campus
climate and reported the lowest levels of
satisfaction. Conversely, students majoring in
the social sciences reported the most positive
perceptions of the campus climate and highest
levels of satisfaction.
Self-Reported Gains. Table 6 shows the
results from the models of self-reported gains.
First-year African American students reported
greater gains than White students in general
education, understanding self and others, and
quantitative skills. Senior African American
students reported greater gains in their
willingness to contribute to the welfare of their
community and senior APA students indicated
greater gains than White students in under-
standing self and others, quantitative skills,
and desire to contribute to their community.
Math and science majors had the lowest gains
for three of the four measures; however, as
expected, they reported the greatest gains of
any group in the area of quantitative skills.
Social science majors had the highest gains of
all majors in general education knowledge,
understanding self, and desire to do community
service. In general, transfer students were
TABLE 6.
Effect Sizes From HLM: Self-Reported Gains Among Students
at Women’s Colleges
General Understanding Quantitative Community
Education Self and Others Skills Welfare
FY SR FY SR FY SR FY SR
African American 0.12*0.10 0.11*–0.01 0.22** 0.16 0.10 0.20**
Native American –0.53 0.00 0.03 –0.14 0.07 0.19 –0.43 0.43
Asian –0.07 –0.05 0.10 0.20** 0.07 0.36** –0.01 0.15*
Latina 0.06 0.08 0.260.04 0.06 0.06 0.33*0.08
Other race 0.05 –0.41 –0.13 –0.24 0.04 0.02 –0.09 –0.63*
Age 0.04 0.04 0.01 –0.03 0.07–0.01 0.01 –0.03
Major-Humanities –0.11 –0.14*–0.07 –0.19** –0.24 –0.53** –0.15*–0.28**
Major-Math and
Science –0.11 –0.44** –0.10 –0.25** 0.56** 0.33** –0.11 –0.32**
Major-Professional 0.01 –0.22** –0.04 –0.22** 0.14–0.07 –0.01 –0.27**
Major-Other –0.05 –0.08 –0.02 –0.11*0.03 –0.06 0.01 –0.15*
Greek 0.07 0.10 0.20*0.26*0.160.12 0.36** 0.23**
Full-time 0.250.21*0.190.20*0.29*0.14 0.16 0.21**
Transfer –0.11 –0.06 –0.04 –0.11 –0.06 0.08 –0.11 –0.17*
Note. Race-ethnicity reference group = White. Major reference group = Social science. FY = First-year students
and SR = Senior students.
p< .10. *p< .05. **p< .01.
MARCH/APRIL 2007 UVOL 48 NO 2 159
Women’s Experiences
comparable to seniors who started at the
women’s college, with one exception; senior
transfer students gained less in their commit-
ment to contribute to the welfare of their
community.
DISCUSSION
The results from this study are consistent with
other research studies, which show that women
who attend a women’s college are advantaged
in terms of the nature and frequency with
which they engage in educationally purposeful
activities and in the progress they make in a
variety of desirable outcomes of college. These
advantages exist independent of institutional
selectivity.
More specifically, women at women’s
colleges engage more frequently in effective
educational practices at levels that exceed those
of their counterparts at coeducational insti-
tutions. Indeed, on almost every engagement
measure, women at single-sex colleges scored
higher. They also reported making more
progress toward a variety of desirable outcomes
of college. Women’s colleges also appear to be
transfer-friendly, in that the pattern of advan-
tages also held for this group of students who
are typically less engaged at other types of
institutions. True to their word, these colleges
appear to create a climate where women are
encouraged to realize their potential and
become involved in various facets of campus
life, inside and outside the classroom.
The high levels of academic challenge
found at women’s colleges appears to be a
reflection of “taking women seriously,” in that
women are experiencing high expectations for
student performance and are deeply engaged
in intellectual and creative activities. First-year
students and particularly seniors at women’s
colleges report significantly higher levels of
academic challenge than women at coeduca-
tional institutions. This suggests that womens
colleges may create climates in which students
are encouraged to spend significant amounts
of time studying and working hard to meet
the expectations of instructors. Consonant
with the work of Smith et al. (1995), women
at women’s colleges perceive the environment
to require a high level of academic involve-
ment. As a result, they expect to work hard to
meet these high expectations. First-year
students and seniors at women’s colleges also
experience more integrative learning experi-
ences, which means they are connecting and
synthesizing information with prior learning
in ways that are more likely to become part of
their approach to new phenomena and efforts
to see things from different perspectives
(Ramsden, 2003; Tagg, 2003). Seniors appear
to benefit the most from the emphasis that
women’s colleges place on higher order
cognitive activities in coursework. Although
the level of academic work expected of students
who attend the most selective women’s colleges
has long been touted as a defining characteristic,
this study suggests that many women’s colleges
indeed provide women a challenging academic
experience.
The advantages of women’s colleges are
said to be due in part to the availability of more
female mentors and role models among the
faculty and top administrators, greater oppor-
tunities for and participation in student
leadership roles, and higher percentages of
students enrolled in the traditionally male
disciplines of math, science, and engineering
(Women’s College Coalition, n.d.; Langdon,
2001; Tidball et al., 1999). Our findings
showing that students at women’s colleges
interact more frequently with faculty suggest
that faculty members at women’s colleges may
be more accessible and that students have more
opportunities to talk with faculty members
outside of class than women at coeducational
institutions. This finding lends further insight
into the discussions raised by Tidball (1973,
160 Journal of College Student Development
Kinzie, Thomas, Palmer, Umbach, & Kuh
1980) and Kim and Alvarez (1995), regarding
the advantages of the number of female faculty
at women’s colleges, by suggesting that it is the
frequency of interactions among students and
faculty members at women’s colleges that
makes a positive educational difference for
women.
Indeed, one could reasonably assume that
high levels of student-faculty interaction create
opportunities for mentorship, such as providing
advice and encouragement, recommendations
for awards, internships or jobs, and involving
students in research. These practices have been
shown to have a positive influence on all
students, and especially for women in science
(Astin & Sax, 1996). Women in science,
mathematics, and engineering at coeducational
institutions are often discouraged from
pursuing science as a career because they have
few interactions with role models that could
support such a choice and further they perceive
that science professors fail to take them
seriously (Davis et al., 1996; Nelson & Rogers,
2004; Seymour & Hewitt, 1997). By estab-
lishing conditions that foster student-faculty
interaction, women’s colleges appear to provide
important support for women in fields where
they are underrepresented. This is true, for
example, at Sweet Briar College where 60% of
its graduates obtain advanced degrees, many
of them in the sciences (Kuh, Kinzie, Schuh,
Whitt & Associates, 2005).
Results from this study also confirm that
first-year students and seniors at women’s
colleges participate more actively in class,
collaborate more frequently with their class-
mates in and out of class, and tutor other
students more than women at coeducational
institutions. Many have argued that because
men are absent at women’s colleges, women
students at single-sex institutions have unique
opportunities to engage in the education
process (Conway, 1985; Langdon, 2001; Neff
& Harwood, 1991, Sharp, 1991; Women’s
College Coalition, 1981). Unlike women at
coeducational institutions, women at single-
sex colleges assume all the leadership roles on
campus, form study groups composed only of
women, and take charge in laboratory exercises
and classroom discussion. Our findings lend
further support to Fassinger’s (1995) conclusion
that classroom conditions at coeducational
institutions reduce women’s levels of participa-
tion, whereas women’s colleges seem to create
classroom conditions in which women students
are more likely to be actively engaged.
The results of this study also show that
women’s colleges seem to foster an environment
that fuels women’s understanding of self and
others. That is, students at womens colleges
report greater gains in self-understanding,
including learning effectively on one’s own and
working effectively with others, than women
at coeducational institutions. These skills,
which are typically associated with career
success and leadership, reveal some of the
conditions that contribute to the high pro-
duction of leaders from women’s colleges (e.g.,
graduates of women’s colleges constitute more
than 20% of women in Congress and are 30%
of a Business Week list of rising women stars in
corporate America). Women’s colleges also
appear to create conditions that support
women’s development of quantitative skills,
and these gains are particularly significant for
science and math majors. This is contrasted
with studies that show that women generally
report relatively low gains in quantitative skills
in college (see Davis et al., 1996).
Although it is not surprising that women’s
colleges would be more sensitive to issues of
gender and sexism, this study also shows that
both first-year students and seniors at women’s
colleges report significantly more experiences
with diversity than women at coeducational
institutions. This finding reinforces Smith
et al.’s (1995) conclusion that women at
women’s colleges perceived that their insti-
MARCH/APRIL 2007 UVOL 48 NO 2 161
Women’s Experiences
tutions cared about multiculturalism, and
bolsters the importance of creating conditions
that facilitate experience with diversity. This
is one of the more important findings from
this study, inasmuch as the topic of diversity
has not been widely examined at women’s
colleges previously. Our findings indicate that
compared to coeducational colleges, women’s
colleges both encourage and provide more
opportunities for students to interact with
people of different economic, racial, and social
backgrounds.
Limitations
Although more than a third (26 of 68) of all
women’s colleges are included in this study,
some highly selective women’s colleges have
not participated in NSSE and, therefore, are
not represented in these findings. Because only
one of the remaining five Seven Sisters schools
is represented in the data, it is possible that
the results would differ if more of these highly
selective women’s colleges were included.
However, a recent study (Pascarella, Wolniak,
& Cruce, 2003) suggests little or no relation-
ship between engagement in effective educa-
tional practices and selectivity. Additionally,
we controlled for selectivity in all of our
models.
Another limitation is related to the validity
of self-reported gains. As Pascarella (2001) and
others point out, gain scores may be confounded
by students’ entering characteristics. Though
Pike (1999) provides some evidence to suggest
that gain scores are not significantly related to
entering ability, it is possible that women who
select women’s colleges and coeducational
institutions may start at different levels of
ability in certain areas, which affects the results
in unknown ways. Although the concerns
about self-reported data are legitimate, the
gains measures are only one of several sets of
dependent variables used in this study, and the
concerns about the validity of self-reported
gains should be interpreted in the context of
the complete set of findings.
Also, some of the effect sizes are relatively
small. For example, most of the effects of
women’s colleges (see Table 3) range from .10
to .20. At the same time, the pattern and
magnitude of many of the effect sizes that favor
women’s colleges over coeducational institu-
tions cannot be overlooked.
Further, assuming as many do that a
Cronbach’s alpha of .70 or above is acceptable
(Nunnally, 1978), several of our alpha co-
efficients fall below this level. Most notable are
the coefficients for active and collaborative
learning (A= .61 for first-year students and
A= .59 for seniors). Although, these measures
have a good deal of conceptual consistency to
represent the major academic and social aspects
of engagement activities, the marginal alphas
on these two scales suggest that the results
associated with these scales should be inter-
preted with some caution.
Finally, a self-selection bias may be
reflected to an unknown degree in the results.
We were unable to control for entering
characteristics that may have affected our
outcomes (Astin & Lee, 2003). Perhaps the
women who choose women’s colleges are more
predisposed than women who matriculate to
other types of institutions to interacting with
faculty members and engaging in collaborative
learning. That is, women at womens colleges
select women’s colleges because they believe
single-sex institutions provide an environment
that offers more such opportunities. This
possible self-selection may influence the
relationship between women’s colleges and the
dependent measures of this study.
Implications
Given the advantages that women’s colleges
create for their students’ learning and personal
development, coeducational institutions seem
to have something to learn. For example,
162 Journal of College Student Development
Kinzie, Thomas, Palmer, Umbach, & Kuh
coeducational institutions can invest more
institutional attention to incorporating gender-
inclusive pedagogies in all courses, but
particularly courses where women are under-
represented, and in creating conditions and
programs that help women students develop
greater self-understanding. In an effort to
understand the circumstances in which
students at women’s colleges are enjoying such
high levels of interaction with their faculty, the
quality and frequency of student-faculty
interaction at women’s colleges might also be
further examined. In addition, it would be
instructive to document the initiatives that
support such high levels of diversity experi-
ences and discover the policies and practices
that women’s colleges enact to welcome and
support transfer students and enable them to
thrive socially and academically at levels
comparable to students who begin college at
the same school.
Clearly, women are the center of attention
at women’s colleges. Moreover, womens
colleges typically provide programs, policies,
and practices that, on average, engage their
students at high levels in educationally
purposeful activities. This strongly suggests
that more women should give further consid-
eration to attending such a college, especially
because the advantages of a women’s college
education are not limited to only a small set
of highly selective institutions, such as the
Seven Sisters colleges. In one sense the
exclusion of the Seven Sisters may make our
findings even more noteworthy because other
women’s colleges generally are more accessible
to and educate a larger proportion of women
undergraduates.
To discover what it is that women’s colleges
do that seems to work so well, the programs,
policies, and practices that effectively engage
women at women’s colleges warrant further
examination. One key issue is to capture and
describe in a fulsome way the curricular and
out-of-class factors that seem to contribute to
women developing skills in analyzing quanti-
tative problems and self-understanding and to
distill principles for designing experiences that
can encourage more women in coeducational
environments to acquire these competencies
at higher levels. Research studies using a
qualitative approach, including Manning
(2000), Miller-Bernal (2000), and Whitt
(1994), have demonstrated other salient
cultural elements, and features of women’s
colleges. However, additional studies that
document and discern pedagogical practices,
educational policies, and programs that
uniquely contribute to women’s education at
single-sex colleges should be explored. A
cultural audit might discover aspects of the
cultures of women’s colleges that may inadver-
tently be contributing to the qualitatively
different experiences of women on the same
campus (Kuh et al., 1991).
Although women’s colleges offer many
advantages, they are not without shortcomings
and challenges. Indeed, not all women attend-
ing women’s colleges have similarly engaging
experiences. For example, African Americans
and APA students were less engaged and
satisfied with their college experience than
their White counterparts. Given that the
enrollment of women of color at women’s
colleges continues to rise, with the largest
increase being African American women
(Guy-Sheftall, 1999), it behooves womens
colleges to attend to the climate for learning
on their campuses for students of color. It
would be disappointing if women’s colleges—
with their tradition of providing access to those
who historically have been denied educational
opportunity—were unwittingly shortchanging
women of color in the educational process.
Historically Black womens colleges, which
have a history of producing high proportions
of successful graduates (Wolf-Wendel, 1998),
should be examined as institutional models to
MARCH/APRIL 2007 UVOL 48 NO 2 163
Women’s Experiences
improve the undergraduate experience for
African American students at predominantly
White women’s colleges. Women of color,
older women, lesbians, and women with
disabilities may require specifically tailored
institutional interventions to make the campus
environment more welcoming. Other “out-
siders” such as those for whom English is a
second language and those from working class
backgrounds may also require focused efforts.
Conclusion
As Geraldine Clifford (1993, p. 142) observed,
“gender ...isoneofthemost potent forces
in shaping human institutions, including
education.” For more than 2 decades, pro-
ponents of women’s colleges have asserted that
such institutions offer female students a
challenging, supportive, and developmentally
powerful learning environment (Conway,
1985; Langdon, 2001; Neff & Harwood,
1991, Sharp, 1991; Women’s College Coali-
tion, 1981). Our findings support this claim
and plainly indicate that single-sex colleges are
a vital postsecondary option for women. In
many respects they are models of effective
educational practice, institutions that have
much to teach other types of colleges and
universities that aspire to providing a challeng-
ing yet supportive educational environment
for all their students.
Correspondence concerning this article should be
addressed to Jillian Kinzie, Indiana University, Center
for Postsecondary Research, 1900 E. 10th St. Suite 419,
Bloomington, IN 47405; jikinzie@indiana.edu
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Scholars have examined gender differences in many areas of college life, but we know little about how men and women may interact differently with faculty—an activity with strong links to student outcomes. Using data from the National Survey of Student Engagement, I investigate whether men and women demonstrate different styles of interaction with faculty. I find that women are more likely than men to engage frequently in instrumental interactions, such as emailing and discussing course logistics with faculty. In contrast, men are more likely than women to have frequent higher order interactions, such as discussing ideas and participating in research. These findings introduce a new typology of student-faculty interaction and contribute to our understanding of gendered pathways through higher education.
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As almost every state attempts to reform mathematics instruction by implementing new teaching standards, stare resting practices remain largely unchanged Do these new standards undermine student performance on old tests? This question is investigated by examining whether middle and high school algebra students taught in a manner consistent with the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics Professional Standards performed differently on three standardized algebra assessments than students taught ill traditional classrooms. The data come from 94 teachers, 2,369 students, and 40 schools in one of the nation's largest school districts. Results indicate that the Standards do not undermine performance on the old tests. Infect, middle school algebra students whose teachers spent more time using the NCTM teaching approach had higher growth rates than students whose teachers spent less time using the approach However students with higher ability levels benefited more. The growth rates Of the lowest achieving students, the high school students (who are disproportionately Black and poor), were not helped or hindered by the NCTM teaching approach. If; as other studies indicate, the new standards help students on more novel rests, the finding that students benefit or at least are not hurt on traditional tests strengthens the case for implementing the NCTM reforms.