College gender gap widens: 57% are women
Educators wonder whether men need preferential treatment
By Mary Beth Marklein
In May, the Minnesota Office of Higher Education posted the
inevitable culmination of a trend: Last year for the first time,
women earned more than half the degrees granted statewide in every
category, be it associate, bachelor, master, doctoral or
Cause for celebration, or for concern?
Before you answer, consider the perspective of Jim McCorkell,
founder of Admission Possible, a St. Paul program to help low-income
high school kids prepare for college. Last year, 30% of the students
were boys. This fall, that has inched up to 34%, but only
because . .
"we actually did a little affirmative action," McCorkell says. "If we had a tie (between a male and a female applicant), we gave it to a boy."
As women march forward, more boys seem to be falling by the wayside, McCorkell says. Not only do national statistics forecast a continued decline in the percentage of males on college campuses, but the drops are seen in all races, income groups and fields of study, says policy analyst Thomas Mortenson, publisher of the influential
Postsecondary Education Opportunity newsletter in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Since 1995, he has been tracking ,and sounding the alarm about, the dwindling presence of men in colleges. . .
There are more men than women ages 18-24 in the USA,15 million vs. 14.2 million, according to a Census Bureau estimate last year. Nationally, the male/female ratio on campus today is 43/57, a reversal from the late 1960s and well beyond the nearly even splits of the mid-1970s.
The trends have developed in plain view, not ignored exactly, but typically accompanied by some version of the question:
Isn't this a sign of women's progress?
Today, though, the blue-collar jobs that once attracted male high school graduates are drying up. More boys are dropping out of high school and out of college. And as the gender gap widens, concern about the educational aspirations of young men appears to be gaining traction, albeit cautiously.
But even as evidence of a problem mounts, "there's a complacency
about this topic," McCorkell says.
There has been no outcry, for example, on the scale of a highly publicized 1992 report by the American Association of University Women, How Schools Short-Change Girls, which compiled reams of research on gender inequities.
That study . .
"really got people to focus on girls (but) there is no big network that protects the needs of boys,"
says family therapist Michael Gurian, author of the just-published The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and Life
, which argues that elementary and secondary schools aren't meeting the developmental needs of boys. . .
Yet because of potential conflicts with federal laws created to ensure gender and racial equity, educators "can't target resources to where they see the need," says Deborah Wilds of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which finances college scholarships for underrepresented kids.
"You know that the kids least likely to graduate are a particular gender or ethnic background, but then you have to walk a fine line in how you serve them."
"We think there's value in having equal numbers," says Jim Bock, admissions dean at Pennsylvania's Swarthmore College. Last year, the school admitted more women than men, but it admitted a greater percentage of the male applicants than female. The student body's male/female breakdown is about 48/52. . .
A study this year of admissions processes at 13 liberal arts schools, most with a predominantly female applicant pool, found that gender was "not a significant determinant" in admissions decisions. When a gender preference for men emerged, it occurred at historically female campuses where the share of female applicants had reached 55% or more, authors Sandy Baum and Eban Goodstein say.
The authors neither advocate nor oppose affirmative action, but as men grow shorter in supply,
"we should be talking about whether it's reasonable to give preferences to men,"
says Baum, a Skidmore College professor. . .
For his part, author Gurian says one reason colleges may fail to attract more men is precisely because they are more geared to female learning styles and interests. Colleges that want to compete for the dwindling pool of men should emphasize male interests, such as sports, he says, and offer more male role models.
But meaningful change must take place well before the college years,
says Gurian, who acknowledges a personal interest in the subject: He
has two daughters.
"We all know a boy that's struggling," he says. "If we create a generation of men who aren't getting an education, that's bad for women."