October 22, 2005

Why aren't more US men going to college?

Given the historical discrimination that US women have suffered in education and employment, it's pretty hard for us to shed many tears over the fact that women now make up more than half of the students in US colleges and universities — and that this percentage continues to grow. Even so, we have to admit that the exclusion of anyone, or whatever gender, from getting a college-level education is a problem that commands our attention. However, a USA Today story about declining male enrollments in the nation's colleges and universities is unlikely to shed any light on why the situation exists and how much of a problem it represents.

The story begins by pointing out a basic truth: Women outnumber men in US colleges by 57 percent to 43 percent — a reversal of the situation 40 years ago — and that there is a continuing drop in male college enrollments that crosses all lines of race, income, and fields of study. Unfortunately, the story then breaks down into a confusing muddle of dueling experts and statistics, none of which gives a clue as to why women are choosing to go to college and men aren't.

We're told that blue-collar jobs traditionally open to male high school graduates disappearing, but not what this has to do with college attendance. We read that more male students are dropping out of high school and college, but we're not given any reasons why they are dropping out. We're told that the needs of boys and girls are different, but we're not told why the needs of both genders aren't being met, or even whether they aren't both being met. We're given a hint that social pressures may be pushing young males away from college, but we're not told what those pressures are or where they originate.

Basically, the bulk of the story boils down to: 'There's a problem. Really. Trust us.'

As to solving the problem of declining male enrollments, the story doesn't offer much, either. Boys-only college-prep classes are suggested at one point, and there are some vague rumblings that something resembling affirmative action for men might be needed. And one expert suggests that men are staying away from higher education because colleges are too geared to women's learning styles and interests; the solution, he says, is to offer more sports [honest!] and more male role models.

But the most interesting part of the USA Today story — and, we'd suggest, the real story here — was buried almost at the bottom:

UCLA higher education professor Linda Sax says such a discussion should address what effect, if any, the gender composition of a college has on men and women. To find out, she examined data from more than 17,000 students at 204 four-year colleges.

Preliminary results show that on campuses that were predominantly female, both men and women got higher grades. Predominantly female campuses also led to a "significant increase" in men's commitment to promoting racial understanding and led males to more liberal views on abortion, homosexuality and other social issues, her research found.

"What we're talking about here is the impact of women's attitudes and values," Sax says.

We'd love to have seen the story about male college enrollments that would have resulted if the reporter had started with this study of male attitude changes, rather than dumped it in at the end, almost as an afterthought.

Posted by Magpie at October 22, 2005 01:11 PM | Education | Technorati links |