Forty years ago, President Nixon signed into law Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972.
The law prohibited gender discrimination by any educational program or activity supported by federal funds. Its impact has been most visible in school and college athletics, though athletics does not appear in the text of the law. But the law still has issues to address.
In 1971-72, before the law was enacted, 294,015 females participated in high school sports while 3.7 million males participated. Statistics gathered by the National Federation of State High School Associations also measured the law's impact, showing that 4.5 million males and 3.2 million females participated in high school athletics in the 2010-11 school year, a significant increase in participation but still leaving a 1.3 million student participation gap. Much of this gap is due to participation in football, where 1.1 million boys and 1,395 girls took part nationwide.
Title IX compliance is measured using the "Three Prong Test." To qualify as compliant, schools must either: provide a proportional number of activities for each gender based on overall school enrollment, prove they are improving athletic opportunities for females on a continuous basis or prove they are satisfying girls' interests in athletics.
Female participation in sports has had an impact on their future academic/career success. A study published in the Youth & Society Journal (2007) found female high school athletes were 41 percent more likely to graduate college within six years than peers not participating in sports. A 2002 survey by Oppenheimer Funds & MassMutual Financial discovered that 80 percent of high level female business executives stated they had participated in sports in their elementary and secondary education years.
Title IX now needs to be applied to the academic equity challenge. Recent advanced placement data showed 80 percent those high school students taking AP tests in computer science were males. Physics AP tests were also male dominated: 77 percent in electric and magnetism tests, and 74 percent in the mechanic exam. Boys also dominated the calculus BC testing at 59 percent.
Recent data suggests more women need to be encouraged to enter the "in demand" fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Of those working in STEM fields, only 25 percents are female. In the engineering profession, only 1 in 7 are female. Bernice Sandler, a senior scholar at the Women's Research and Education Institute in Washington, stated "Girls in school, if you mentioned that you want to be a 'doctor,' you were told that it was very hard to do and were overtly discouraged. The assumption was that girls grow up, get married and don't work."
Though this 1970s attitude has begun to change, Sandler states it still exists in our culture.
Title IX has been a catalyst in improving female access to and participation in K-12/collegiate athletics. Lessons from these accomplishments must now be applied toward female participation in STEM areas of study. Young women now make up more than 57 percent of the current collegiate population. To fill our future workforce needs, Title IX will now need to focus its efforts on equal encouragement of genders to enter the high demand STEM fields.
Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.