Title IX: The Civil Rights Law that Opens Doors – 50th Anniversary
June 15, 2022
Time flies, it seems. We are already at the half-century mark of Title IX, the landmark civil rights law that advances equal educational opportunity for students attending schools and programs that receive federal financial aid. Title IX, a provision of the Amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1972, has opened millions of doors for girls and young women, allowing them to excel in educational attainment, pursue the career of their dreams and experience greater freedoms. Title IX has also provided a measure of equal protection and support for LGBTIA+ students, students of color, pregnant and parenting students and students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and career and technical programs (CTE).
Before Title IX, most women were blind to rampant discrimination in education – simply because it had always existed. But this was a prevailing notion that lasted for hundreds of years – until the 20th Century and the advent of the modern women’s movement. But the deliberate actions of several Congressional leaders and women’s rights allies including the National Organization for Women, the ground was shifted in 1972 by this law. Title IX belied the myth that women’s minds were too “weak” to handle those supposedly demanding subjects.
Adopted in the early days of the Second Wave of the movement, Title IX disrupted public education by promoting a standard of equal opportunity and equal treatment. The simple text of Title IX as it was signed by President Richard Nixon on June 23, 1972:
“No person in the United States shall, based on sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”Title IX, signed by President Richard Nixon, June 23, 1972
Rep. Patsy Takemoto Mink (D-HI) wrote an early draft of Title IX with Edith Green (D-OR) who saw the need to combat sex bias in schools. Indiana Sen. Birch Bayh co-authored Title IX and with Rep. Mink introduced it in Congress. Though it was opposed by some universities and college athletics associations because of a concern that they would have to share athletic program budgets with the girls. Title IX passed without much notice. The law is now known as the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act (Public Law No. 92318, 86 Stat. 235).
Title IX’s prohibitions on sex-based discrimination broke deliberate restrictions on girls’ and women’s educational attainment. Many of us have forgotten that for most of our history women were not permitted to attend four-year colleges; certainly, they were not welcomed at prestigious universities but were expected to attend all girls’ colleges. Women were constrained from attending professional academies such as in law and medicine and were discouraged from studying engineering and the ‘hard’ sciences. Often, there were strict quotas applied to women for graduate and professional schools – only 10 percent were accepted, sometimes fewer. Of course, to gain entry women had to be better qualified than the men. And, not to be overlooked, at all levels of education pregnant teachers and students were told to quit their jobs or withdraw from school.
For all grades and higher education, sex bias was even more pronounced in athletics programs; university women’s athletics programs received one or two percent of what the men’s athletic programs received. Even though athletic opportunities are still far from being on par with those for boys and men, girls and young women have made steady progress. The Title IX mandate for equal opportunity affecting athletic as well as academic programs has laid the basis for stunning accomplishments by U.S. women in Olympic competition and impressive gains for women in soccer and basketball. (We will report on these gains later.)
Title IX’s prohibition against sex-based discrimination provided the critical protection needed by students who had been marginalized, mainly girls and young women and students of color as well as LGBTQIA+ students, who encounter sex-based harassment to have their claims heard and to seek a fair resolution. Before that most schools – primary grades up through post-secondary—often ignored reports of sex-based harassment and discrimination. Frequently, school administrators failed to intervene. Survivors just withdrew from school. Untold numbers of students – mainly young women — who had experienced serious harassment, including sexual assault, abandoned higher education. A survey conducted during the Obama administration showed that incidents of sexual harassment and assault were widespread, prompting the Department of Education to issue guidance about how schools can effectively address the problem.
Title IX has played a pivotal role in addressing these inequities. The act’s implementation led the U.S. Department of Education to establish a process for receiving and adjudicating complaints, the Office for Civil Rights. Students and schools and Title IX programs have come a long way since then; such incidents still occur but regulatory changes are being made to better address these issues. Under President Donald Trump and Education Secretary, Betsy Devos requirements for schools to address sex-based harassment and violence were revised to dramatically narrow school’s responsibilities, leaving millions of students at risk. Reportedly, incidents of sex-based harassment have since increased. President Biden has vowed to replace the Trump/DeVos harmful changes. Title IX advocates are anxiously awaiting the proposed regulatory change – hopefully to be released near the June 23rd anniversary.
Today, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) released a letter urging the president to release the proposed regulation; the letter was signed by 200+ national, state, and local civil rights, survivor advocacy, and education groups. NWLC coordinates the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education (NCWGE), a group founded by NOW and allies in the mid-70’s to push a recalcitrant Department of Health, Education and Welfare (forerunner of the Department of Education) to implement Title IX. A new report produced by member organizations of the NCWGE detailing the important gains under Title IX, with recommendations on more work to be done was just released. You can read it here, The National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education (ncwge.org)
The gains of girls, young women, and students of color due to Title IX are impressive as these statistics indicate:
- The overall college enrollment rate for 18- to 24-year-olds has been higher for females than for males since 2000.
- In 2019, the overall college enrollment rate was 44% for female students and 37% for male students.
- College enrollment rates increased from 2000 to 2018 for white, Black, and Hispanic female students ages 18 to 24.
- From 2000 to 2018, Black and Hispanic female students ages 18–24 saw the largest increase in enrollment rates.
- Black female enrollment for students ages 18–24 increased from 35% to 41%, while Hispanic female enrollment increased from 25% to 40%.
- Enrollment for white females ages 18–24 increased from 41% to 45%.
Higher Education Attainment
- In 1972, 15.4% of men and 9% of women in the United States had completed a four-year degree or more
- As of 2021, women in the United States are outpacing men in higher education attainment
- 39% of adult women ages 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree versus 37% of adult men ages 25 and older
- 46% of adult women ages 25-34 have a bachelor’s degree versus 36% of adult men ages 25-34
- In 2018–19, women earned 61% of all associate degrees, 57% of all bachelor’s degrees, 61% of all master’s degrees, and 54% of all doctoral degrees conferred.
- Sixty-six percent of females who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a four-year institution in the year 2013 completed that degree within six years, compared to 60% of male students.
Attainment of Advanced Degrees
- For the 12th year in a row, women earned a majority of doctoral degrees awarded at US universities in 2020. Of the 76,111 doctoral degrees awarded in 2020
- Women earned 40,037 of those degrees and 53.1% of the total, compared to 35,368 degrees awarded to men who earned 46.9% of the total
- For every 100 men earning a doctoral degree last year, there were more than 113 female graduates
- Women started earning a majority of master’s degrees in 1981
- Women earning doctoral degrees in 2020 outnumbered men in the following graduate fields:
- Arts and Humanities (51.8% female)
- Biology (a new record-high 53.8% share in one of the main STEM fields, despite the frequent narrative that females are significantly under-represented in STEM)
- Education (67.8%)
- Health and Medical Sciences (71.4%, isn’t that another STEM field?)
- Public Administration (76.2%)
- Social and Behavioral Studies (61.3%)
- Men still earned a majority of 2020 doctoral degrees in the four fields of Business (53.3% male), Engineering (75.1%), Math and Computer Science (74.2%), and Physical and Earth Sciences (65.0%).
- Before Title IX, most medical and law schools limited the number of women to 15 or fewer per school. In 1972, women earned only 7% of all law degrees and 9% of all medical degrees; they now earn nearly half of all degrees in both areas.