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A Survey of Title IX

Yesterday, the Obama administration announced changes in the compliance rules for college athletics. Traditionally, schools could meet gender equity requirements in one of three ways. The proportionality standard is met if the program in question, say athletics, has a gender proportion roughly equal to that of the student body as a whole. The progress standard is met if the school can demonstration a clear progress towards meeting gender equity goals by, say, adding women's sports teams. Of course, a large number of academic departments, economics for example, routinely fail to meet Title IX requirements in terms of proportionality and progress, so a third standard is full accommodation. If the college can demonstrate that the interests of the underrepresented gender are fully accomodated by existing programs, then the school is deemed to be in compliance.

But how can one determine full compliance? Economists faced with a question such as this will often turn to survey methods, also known in economist's lingo as "contingent valuation." Yesterday the Obama administration signaled that surveys of student interest would no longer be a viable method of determining full accommodation.

Two concerns arise from this decision. First, economists are well-versed in the difficulties of survey methods. It is clear that incorrectly designed and administered surveys can lead to inaccurate, incomplete, or biased results. However, faced with such problems, economists would typically work to improve the polling method rather than simply abandoning the technique altogether, and indeed there is a well-developed literature in how to efficiently and accurately collect survey data.

The second concern is whether yesterday's decision is a signal that the full accommodation criteria will be dropped entirely for athletics. Ultimately that could lead to a simple but strict quota system. While opponents of Title IX tend to exaggerate the effects of the regulations on men's athletics, indeed the number of male athletes at the college and unversity level has increased over the period that Title IX has been enforced, in a era of budget cuts, a reduction in male athletic opportunties may on the horizon.