Riding a nationwide wave of female consciousness-raising, women's colleges are reporting a surge in applications and admissions unprecedented since the 1960s.
Thanks in part to such highly visible women as Anita Hill, %J congressional candidates and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton -- herself a women's college graduate -- the nation's 84 women-only campuses are reporting an average rise in enrollment of 10 percent over a year ago.
"In the past two years, where women's issues have been in the spotlight, female students have become better-informed consumers," said Jadwiga Sabrechts, executive director of the Women's College Coalition in Washington. "Girls coming out of high school are more demanding about what they expect from college. They want a more supportive, encouraging environment."
Educators say the 10 percent rise in women's college enrollments is significant when compared with an average 2 percent increase being experienced by private colleges and universities nationwide.
The nation's 104 historically black colleges also are experiencing a resurgence, with a 4 percent increase in students from 1990 to 1991, according to the American Council on Education.
jTC In general, private campuses have been buoyed through the early 1990s by widespread cutbacks in publicly supported higher education. Parents and students seeking more intimate environments and a guarantee they will get their needed classes and degrees on time have decided to pay the higher costs of a private education.
But those private campus enrollment increases have not matched those of black and women's colleges.
Women's college officials say their current popularity could mean a more stable future for women's campuses, many of which are small, pricey liberal arts colleges that have been struggling financially.
As enrollments increase, there is expected to be less pressure for the colleges to accept male students to raise extra money.
A report detailing how girls are shortchanged over boys in the classroom is cited as one reason for the boom at women's colleges. Released a year ago by the American Association of University Women, the much-publicized report detailed how girls often are overlooked by teachers and don't have as many opportunities for leadership roles in school.
The number of highly visible women's college graduates running for Congress also has helped, campus officials say. Some 41 percent of the women who ran for the U.S. Senate last November were graduates of women's colleges, as were 24 percent of the women running for seats in the House. Their
largely disproportionate to the estimated 5 percent of female college graduates who earned their degrees at women-only campuses.
Women's colleges also credit much of their increased attention to what officials are calling the "Hillary factor" -- and the fact that Mrs. Clinton is a graduate of the all-female Wellesley College.
"Young women are asking themselves, 'Was it Wellesley that gave her an edge, part of her sense of self and her self-confidence?' Anyone who knows her knows that it was," said Scripps College President Nancy Bekavac, a friend and classmate of Mrs. Clinton's from Yale Law School.
Ms. Bekavac said that in reviewing essays of applicants for freshman admission this fall, many young women also mentioned the impact of Clarence Thomas' confirmation hearings on their decision to apply to a women's campus. At those hearings, law professor Anita Hill testified that Mr. Thomas, who was confirmed as a Supreme Court justice, had sexually harassed her when she had worked for him in the past.
"These students, even at the high school level, are much more sensitive to women's issues than they have been for 25 years," Ms. Bekavac said.