It’s a pleasure and honor to follow Valerie Jarrett and Birch Bayh. Given our lineup of distinguished speakers and outstanding panelists, I am going to keep my remarks brief.
I don’t believe we do enough in general in education to celebrate success. And so I’m especially pleased to be here today, because Title IX is one of the great educational and civil rights success stories of the last 40 years.
I am a big believer in the value of college sports. I can think of no other institution, apart perhaps from the military, that does as much to shape our future leaders as intercollegiate athletics. Student athletes learn lessons on the court and the playing field that are hard to learn anywhere else-lessons about teamwork, commitment, adaptation, and discipline.
I am thrilled that some of those outstanding examples of women athletes, leaders, and legends like Billie Jean King are here with us this afternoon. But it is precisely because college athletics play such an essential role, that we must be vigilant about ensuring equal opportunity for men and women in college sports. We cannot unnecessarily dissuade women or limit their opportunities.
This is a personal issue for me. I played college sports, but so did my sister. She was, by the way, a much better basketball player than me, and played a couple of years overseas. She was an early beneficiary of Title IX.
But I’ll tell you something else that not many people realize. My mother was the best athlete in our family. It drove me crazy, but she beat me one-on-one for years. I quit playing tennis because I got tired of losing to her. But, unfortunately, as for so many women of her generation, her opportunities to play sports in college were severely limited.
When Title IX was enacted in 1972, less than 30,000 female students participated in sports and recreational programs at NCAA member institutions nationwide. Today, that number has increased nearly six-fold. And at the high school level, the number of girls participating in athletics has increased ten-fold since 1972, to three million girls today.
When Congress enacted Title IX, it seemed to simply enshrine a universal sentiment. Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance. And yet this simple, unexceptional 37-word long provision has forever altered our high schools and colleges for the better.
As all of you know, Title IX’s benefits stretch far beyond the playing field. Women athletes are more likely to graduate from college than female students who don’t play sports. They are less likely to use drugs, get pregnant as teenagers, or become obese.
And that’s not all. The economic returns of Title IX have been immense. One study of Title IX by Wharton professor Betsey Stevenson found that up to 40 percent of the overall rise in employment among women in the 25 to 34 year-old age group was attributable to Title IX.
Contrary to the fears and doubts of some skeptics, Title IX did not become a zero-sum proposition. New opportunities for women didn’t mean fewer opportunities for men. Title IX has been a win-win law that benefits both women and men.
Since Title IX was enacted, the number of men playing sports has actually increased. More men than women still participate in college sports, even though women now significantly outnumber men on college campuses. So we have come a long way. But we clearly still have a distance to travel before educational institutions truly provide equal opportunities to participate in athletics to men and women.
To conclude, I want today to not only celebrate Title IX’s extraordinary impact and value over the last 40 years but reaffirm its great potential to advance equity in the next 40 years.
New opportunities for women in intercollegiate sports get most of the publicity. But they are only a part of Title IX’s enduring legacy.
As President Obama has pointed out, Title IX “does not even mention sports… Title IX has the potential to make similar, striking advances in the opportunities that girls have in the STEM disciplines.”
We are working hard to ensure that schools make available rigorous standards that help prepare all students-regardless of gender-for both college and career, including access to science, technology, engineering, and math curricula.
This landmark law prohibiting sex discrimination has other far-reaching implications in schools and universities that receive federal funds.
To cite one example, our Office for Civil Rights has redoubled enforcement of Title IX and issued groundbreaking guidance with respect to sexual harassment and sexual violence on college campuses.
Title IX similarly prohibits discrimination against pregnant and parenting students. Before Title IX, these students often were forced to drop out of school. We will continue to make sure that their rights are protected-and that discrimination against pregnant and parenting students is not tolerated.
So, thanks to all of you for coming out today and joining in this celebration. As a nation, we’ve accomplished more than anyone imagined under Title IX. And I absolutely believe the next 40 years of Title IX hold the promise for more great advances in educational opportunity.