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Education Reporter

Men are 'Opting Out' of College
Female student majority nears 60%

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America's colleges and universities are witnessing an increasing gender gap as the female student majority continues to grow on many campuses, despite the fact that there are slightly more college-age males than females. Increases are occurring across the country at large state universities such as the University of New Mexico (57% female) and at smaller institutions such as Concordia College in St. Paul, MN (61% female). At some schools, the female majority ranges up to 65% or even 73%.

According to an article in the Feb. 8 issue of U.S. News & World Report, women will earn about 57% of the bachelor's degrees awarded at American colleges and universities in 1999, compared with 43% in 1970, and less than 24% in 1950. This growth began in 1979 and has spread to schools of all sizes, both public and private, including religious schools. An article in the Dec. 6, 1998 New York Times said the trend "is reshaping everything from recruiting to social life."

Judith Sturnick, director of the American Council on Education's Office of Women in Higher Education, worries that higher education "could become devalued because of its increasing feminization." Sturnick told U.S. News that, "when there begins to be a predominance of female members in any area, the value of that area goes down."

Helping to skew the numbers are many older women who return to college after raising families and helping spouses launch careers. There is also a disproportionately large number of black women who go to college compared with black men, which many say is a particular cause for concern.

"Men are just not as interested in higher education as women," Alan McIvor, vice president of enrollment services at Beloit College in Wisconsin, told the New York Times. "They have these non-academic interests: the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker."

Sources quoted by U.S. News agree that males' waning interest in traditional two-year and four-year degrees has much to do with the lure of relatively high-paying jobs in entrepreneurial and technical fields, particularly computers. "If making money is your first goal," explains Stephen Trachtenberg, president of George Washington University in Washington, DC, "and if you are competent in high-paying skills, there's no reason to finish your degree." U.S. News cited as an example a 23-year-old man who earns $76,000 a year as web master for a computer company.

Armed with training programs and the promise of lucrative employment, corporations are playing a role in siphoning off male high school graduates, who tend to score slightly higher in math than girls on standardized tests, and considerably higher in math on the SAT. Computer firms, especially, view higher math scores as an important prerequisite for prospective employees.

While technical careers offer young men higher salaries sooner, research shows that male college graduates will eventually considerably surpass the earning power of those with only a high school diploma. And men who go to college still greatly outnumber women in engineering and physical sciences programs, which generally lead to more financially-rewarding careers than liberal arts programs.

For years, the prevailing wisdom has been that girls are shortchanged in the classroom, but that perception is changing as more education experts focus on the causes of boys' lack of interest in higher education. Teachers at the elementary and secondary school levels now stand accused of bias in favor of girls, because boys tend to be more disruptive, less manageable, and less studious in the classroom. Margaret Miller, president of the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE), told U.S. News that, "Being good in school is associated with femininity."

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education released a report refuting the findings of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) that teachers were focusing their attention on boys and discouraging girls from taking important math and science courses. The AAUW's 1992 report on "How Schools Shortchange Girls" triggered a spate of programs and remedies to cure the "problem" of bias toward girls (See Education Reporter, Jan. 1999).

Nonetheless, the AAUW persists in complaining about gender inequity. AAUW claims the "technology gap" is replacing the gender gap because girls take fewer computer courses. An AAUW report issued last October claims that 25% of female high school students take a computer science course, compared with 30% of boys. The gap widens considerably, AAUW says, in the area of computer applications, with 2% of girls taking such courses compared with 6% of boys.

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