University enrollment is slowly dwindling–perhaps because of exorbitant costs and student loans–but a 2013 study from the Pew Research Center shows that twenty, smack dab in the middle of college, is the average age at which LGBT persons are coming out in America. Many schools are perking up their ears, then, and realizing that as attitudes change about sexual orientation in the United States, LGBT students who feel comfortable expressing themselves will need more support and resources available to them than ever before.
“It’s a competitive advantage,” says Genny Beemyn, director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, one of the nation’s first on-campus support centers for LGBT students. “If you want to attract the best and brightest students, you don’t want competitors to get a leg up.”
A growing number of campuses are launching programs to attract and hold onto LGBT students, including college fairs aimed at LGBT applicants, LGBT student-support offices, special graduation ceremonies, and housing and healthcare for transgender students. Colleges and universities are also putting more resources into LGBT student centers, including by hiring full-time employees to direct them.
With Campus Pride and The Princeton Review tracking the level of LGBT-accessibility and friendliness at campuses around the country, it is easier than ever for students to pick and choose the schools they apply to based on criteria specific to sexual orientation. Over 400 schools have taken Campus Pride's index survey, says executive director Shane Windmeyer.
“Campuses today want to be called gay friendly,” Windmeyer says. “They see they’re going to lose students if they’re not, [and] realize the pool of non-LGBT students is dwindling.”
Josh Bergeleen (right), a gay recent graduate of Emory University who found more support from his school's LGBT resources than from his family in Texas, agrees that schools will realize the tide is changing soon enough.
“As there is more awareness of LGBT [people] in the larger community,” he says, “more and more kids are going to want to know what resources and information are available. Schools will catch up.”
(Photo of Bergeleen via Time.)