In the 1970s, after twice being denied admission to medical school at U.C. Davis, Allan Bakke sued the University of California over its admissions policies. A white male, Bakke charged the university with reverse racial discrimination. His suit went to the Supreme Court, where it became a landmark split decision that, while upholding affirmative action as legal, ordered that Bakke be admitted to Davis. The case helped galvanize the movement against affirmative action.
But if Bakke were an applicant today his story might be very different. A survey of admissions directors released last week found that male applicants of all races are far more likely to benefit from affirmative action-like policies than female applicants.
"Men are being admitted with lower grades and test scores," said Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Ed, which conducted the survey. "While a lot of people don't like to talk about it, a lot of colleges are basically doing affirmative action for men."
What's behind the aggressive push for male students is the decades-long trend of more women on campus. Women have comprised a majority of students in higher education since 1979, one year after the Bakke decision. And that trend is accelerating. The National Center for Education Statistics projects that women's enrollment will increase 16 percent by 2020, compared to 8 percent for men. At that point women will comprise 59 percent of post-secondary students, men just 41 percent. In 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, the gender split was 57 percent women, 43 percent men.