Middle East Recruitment Gives New Meaning To "College Girls"S

A story in today's International Herald Tribune discusses the fate of women's colleges in this country. Specifically: Bryn Mawr, Barnard, Mount Holyoke, Wellesley and Smith. "In the 1960s," writes Tamar Lewin, "there were some 300 women's colleges in the United States; now there are fewer than 60." Sure, these schools boast accomplished alumnae like Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Emily Dickinson, Diane Sawyer, Katharine Hepburn and Madeleine Albright. But most American high school girls never consider applying to a women's college. However: There are a record number of high-achieving applicants, thanks to a recruitment effort by the admissions deans of these schools. The deans went where single-sex education isn't so weird: The Middle East. But! It's not always an easy fit:

Lewin writes, "Pasangi Perera Weerasingag, who attended a coeducational British-model high school in Dubai, said that when she arrived at Mount Holyoke last year, she was shocked by the presence of so many lesbians among the students."

Ms. Weerasingag adjusted and now loves the environment at Mount Holyoke. "At the beginning, there were times when I'd have to close my eyes and say, 'O.K., I'm at Mount Holyoke, and it's different.' But that lasted only a week or so, and now I have so many friends who are openly gay, and it makes no difference," she says. Other prospective students see freedom in single-sex schooling, "My options of traveling to the United States are limited by my conservative upbringing," says Ascia al-Faraj, a student at the American International School in Kuwait. "But the chances of attending one of the Sisters schools is more likely."

This seems like a win-win situation. But on one hand, isn't it sad that the Sister Schools — historically and culturally important — have to struggle for applicants? And on the other hand, is there something super effed up about the concept of women's colleges if religious conservatives are attracted to them?

Recruiters For Top Women's Colleges In U.S. See A Bounty In The Middle East [International Herald Tribune]