- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 21, 2004

GROVE CITY, Pa. - Twenty years ago in these hills of western Pennsylvania an hour north of Pittsburgh, a small liberal-arts college with a Christian vision faced down both the Carter and Reagan administrations over the issue of federal control in the name of women’s equality.

Grove City College won a landmark 1984 Supreme Court ruling that the school was not discriminating and that the U.S. Education Department was improperly trying to regulate all of the school’s activities under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act just because some students received federal grants.

But today, after refusing any government aid or interference, Grove City still bests most federally regulated colleges and universities in the equal-opportunity arena, despite being free from the requirements of Title IX.

“We do it as a matter of conscience,” said Richard G. Jewell, the college’s president, in an interview. “It is important to remember that the dispute with the federal government, from our perspective, was not about the goals of Title IX — opportunity and equality for women in athletics, which we embrace.

“But it was about whether the college could be legally required to following Title IX when it didn’t receive federal money. In short, the case for us was about institutional operating freedom, and that freedom has produced remarkable results,” Mr. Jewell said.

Grove City’s record supports the claim:

cMore than two-thirds of the college’s 2,300 students — equally divided between young men and women — participate in intramural and varsity sports — playing everything from bowling to rugby football on the exquisitely manicured 500-acre campus.

• Men and women each have 10 varsity NCAA Division III sports teams, which last year won eight President’s Athletic Conference championships.

• Both men’s and women’s teams won PAC championships in cross country, tennis and track and field. Men won basketball and swimming, while women were golf champions.

cDuring the past seven years, Grove City women have won six PAC All-Sports trophies and men have won five.

Grove City has the only eight-lane all-deep-water competitive pool in NCAA Division III.

The men’s swim team has had 53 consecutive winning seasons, 20 conference championships, and placed second in the conference 14 times since 1951, said swim coach David C. Fritz. Last year, graduating senior Peggy Whitbeck won her third consecutive NCAA swimming championship title in the 200-yard butterfly, setting a new national record time of 2:03.03.

“We have a very strong academic emphasis,” said Athletic Director Donald L. Lyle. Each year, about 150 of Grove City’s varsity players receive scholar athlete awards for at least a 3.2 grade-point average.

Last year, 78 of the college’s 390 varsity athletes were on the PAC academic honor roll with a 3.6 GPA or above and Grove City has led the conference academically for the past four semesters, Mr. Lyle said.

Grove City consistently has had a 78 percent graduation rate.

“I haven’t had an athlete in 10 years that didn’t graduate,” Mr. Lyle said.

The average SAT score for this year’s incoming 608 freshmen was 1271, according to Jeffrey C. Mincey, the admissions director. The college had 2,091 applicants this year — more than three for every space, he said.

The 1984 Supreme Court ruling followed Grove City’s refusal seven years earlier to sign a Title IX compliance form, at the insistence of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and later the Education Department. The form said the school agreed to comply with all federal regulations, even future ones not yet issued.

In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled that federal sex-discrimination rules applied only to Grove City’s financial aid office, not the college at large, because some students participated in the federal Stafford guaranteed student loan program.

In a concurring opinion, Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Lewis Powell described the case as “an unedifying example of overzealousness on the part of the federal government.

The justices noted Grove City’s “unbending policy” of remaining independent of government assistance, saying, “one surrenders a certain measure of the freedom that Americans have always cherished” when accepting such assistance.

Congress later passed legislation over President Reagan’s veto that applied federal control to the entire college, including athletics, as long as any Grove City students were receiving any federal assistance.

The college later pulled out of the Stafford loan program entirely and established its own loan assistance for students through the PNC Bank Corp. in Pittsburgh.

In fact, the private loans are more generous than federal loans — up to $7,500 a year or $45,000 over four years, and the 3.55 percent interest rate is comparable to the federal rate, said Patty Peterson, the college’s financial-aid director.

She said 860 students, or 38 percent of the student body, took loans for the 2003-04 academic year, and a total of $34 million in loans is currently outstanding. In lieu of federal Pell grants, which students do not accept, the college raises private donations for its own generous $3.5 million yearly financial-aid program for needy students.

Grove City’s yearly tuition and board fees are less than $15,000, or half that of most colleges.

“It has been ranked often as the best or one of the best values in America … and for the last two rating cycles has been listed by Barron’s among the 50 most competitive colleges and universities in America — the only private Christian evangelical school to be so ranked,” Mr. Jewell said.

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