Don’t Pop That Champagne Yet

 With its 40th birthday coming on June 23rd, we’ll likely be hearing more and more plaudits for Title IX, the federal law banning gender discrimination in federally funded education activities. But it is hardly clear that the law was either necessary, or beneficial.

It’s certainly not an open-and-shut case, for instance, that Title IX broke open lots of opportunities in higher education that wouldn’t otherwise have existed – yet been in demand – for women. A quick look at women’s percentage of total college enrollment shows that females were gaining classroom seats at a big clip well before 1972. According to federal data, between 1947 and 1972 women’s share of total enrollment was growing at a pace of 0.56 percentage points per year, rising from 29.0 percent to 43.1 percent. From 1972 until 2010, in contrast, the growth was only 0.37 percentage points per year, hitting 57.0 percent in 2010.

Those figures don’t prove, of course, that there was and is no discrimination against women in higher education. They do, however, show that women were moving headlong into college well before Title IX, and today are so much larger a percentage of total enrollees than men that most colleges would be in serious jeopardy were they to deny them things they want. It also suggests that cultural acceptance of women in college and other new roles was changing well before the law was passed, and cultural evolution has probably had a lot more to do with new opportunities opening for women than Title IX.

There are many other powerful arguments to be made against Title IX – the strange preoccupation with sports opens up a slew of them all by itself – but also potent points to be made in its favor. That’s why on June 20th Cato will be hosting a lively debate on the law with both pro- and anti-Title IX speakers. You can register to attend here, or follow the debate online.

It might be Title IX’s birthday, but one of its presents should not be an absence of tough, fair scrutiny.

C/P from the National Journal‘s “Education Experts” blog.