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The Gender Gap In Higher Education

Recent years have seen a key global change in higher education. Girls are enrolling and graduating at higher rates, and guys are not keeping up. This is apparently a worldwide phenomenon, not only an American one. Career-Journal.com, self-billed as “the most important career news worldwide,” advises that “Women Outnumber Men University Enrolments Worldwide: Women No Longer the Second Sex” (2009-11-08).[1] We learn that, according to UNESCO’s 2009 Global Education Digest, female students increased six-fold between 1970 and 2007, while males only quadrupled:[2]

    UNESCO’s survey found that in North America and Europe, a third more women than men are on campus. Latin America, the Caribbean as well as Central Asia also show high rates of female enrolments. In a number of countries, at least two females graduate for every male.

Of course, we must exercise caution when comparing our culture with others. While, the general trend toward fewer male frosh, hence fewer graduates, is clear in much of the world, different local factors may drive it—particularly in countries where only a small proportion of the population, male or female, attends a university anyway.

So what’s happening in America, specifically?

The trend to fewer men than women enrolling at university, which became pronounced in the early 2000s, is clear and universally recognized, but the details are under dispute. The general consensus is that men’s share of college enrolments will continue to dwindle, says the U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics:[3]

    The report, a compendium of data published annually by the department’s National Center for Education Statistics, projects that by 2019 women will account for 59 percent of total undergraduate enrollment and 61 percent of total postbaccalaureate enrollment at the nation’s colleges and universities. Since the late 1990s, they have accounted for about three-fourths of the increase in the number of master’s degrees awarded in the United States and nearly all of the growth in the number of professional degrees earned, the report says.

By 2010, women were also leading in doctorates, up to 50.4 percent vs. 44 percent in 2000.[4]

Some claim that the gender gap has actually leveled off. A report released by the American Council on Education, “Gender Gap Stops Growing,” (January 26, 2010) argued, [5]

    The report by the American Council on Education comes amid much talk nationally about the significance of trends that have left men making up only about 43 percent of college enrollments and new college graduates. Some colleges have gone so far as to talk about affirmative action for men, which in turn has prompted an investigation by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. And a flurry of articles have suggested problems for the United States economy and society if male educational attainment continues to decline.
    The message of the report is largely encouraging, noting that “several indicators suggest that the size of the gender gap in higher education may have stabilized” and that the number of bachelor’s degrees being awarded to men is again on the rise. While women’s numbers are also increasing, the report says that the male increases are important in showing that “women’s success does not come at the expense of men.”

Given the magnitude of change, however, such optimism seems unwarranted and betrays a wider agenda.

Are there areas of university life where men are not disappearing from campus?

Yes, definitely. This trend is not happening in engineering, or computer and information sciences.[6] Women’s share of these areas has actually declined. In 2007–8, women received only 17 percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering and engineering technologies, and 18 percent in computer and information sciences and support services. Ten years earlier, it was 27 percent.[7] Similarly, women’s current lead in doctorates is not seen in this area:[8]

    Only 22 percent of engineering doctorates in 2008–9 were awarded to women, and only 27 percent in mathematics and computer science. But the fields in which women now make up a majority go well beyond arts and humanities, and include health sciences and the biological sciences.

Indeed, one administrator blamed her university’s “lonely girls” on the fact that the university does not have an engineering school (!).[9]

Apart from these exceptions, why are guys forsaking university?

The first thing we need to see is that, underneath the statistics served up, is thinly described glee on the part of the education establishment about righting what they take to be a historic injustice. One result is that self-serving explanations for the disappearing jock are frequently offered and unquestioningly published by compliant major media. On the other hand, some explanations offered do shed light. That is, they reference obvious sources of motive rather than fashionable psychological theories, political causes, or ad hoc handwaving. Let’s look at the more credible explanations first:

1. Men can often earn more than women without attending university, so where money is in question, they may be tempted away rather than driven away. One now-retired long haul trucker who was refused tenure due to a disagreement with politically correct colleagues explained the attraction of high-end blue collar work for him:[10]

    It was the adventure of my life and we would usually go coast to coast at least twice a month. I went hundreds of miles up into Canada. We could not go to Mexico, but often picked up loaded trailers at the border. I could bring home over $1,000 US per week and that is after medical insurance and saving 30 percent.

His circumstances were not unusual for an able man, but they would be for many women. Similarly, Deborah A. Santiago, vice president for policy and research at Excelencia in Education, promoting higher education to Latinos, remarks that,[11]

    … for many low-income Latino males, the opportunity costs of higher education seem too great, when they compare paying for college to “earning $25 an hour in a construction job.”

In general, at all degree levels, young men earned more in 2008 (median) than young women, education being equal.[12]

2. More young men than young women are attracted to a military career.

3. Education fads in recent years have not been helpful for boys, though they have been for girls. Boys need discipline and competition more than girls, and these are precisely the conditions that fell into disfavor. Richard Whitmire, author of Why Boys Fail, recalls a mother telling him how she first discovered the new approach’s results at the 6th grade awards ceremony:[13]

    “It was very visual,” said McClendon. “You would see one, two, three, four girls climb up to the stage and then walk off. And then another three or four girls would be called up. Here were all these little girls getting the awards.” Of the roughly twenty awards given out, it was pretty much a clean sweep of academic awards for the girls that day. Wait, two boys won a “most improved” and a third boy got a good sense of humor/positive attitude award. Ouch. McClendon remembers saying to herself, “Oh, that’s horrible.” It’s not as if the school didn’t see this coming. In the days prior to the awards ceremony, school counselor Annie Caulfield realized she had a problem. Awards that normally went to one boy and girl, such as the American Legion prize, were instead going to two girls. The prospect of a potentially embarrassing girl weep caused Caulfield to check on past awards. “Over the last eight years we’ve seen gradual changes, with more girls winning, and then ‘bam.’ This year was so blatant, so one-sided. I encouraged the teachers to go back and look again, but they felt this is what it needed to be.” What keeps boys off awards stages is a combination of academics and behavior; they don’t earn perfect grades and they are more prone to playground tussles.

Most mentoring programs for young, disadvantaged guys are sponsored with the intention of keeping them off drugs and out of jail, endeavors which often fail if no career path will reward success anyway. And then they are put on Ritalin, so that teachers trained to expect a low conflict environment can manage them better. What starts here doesn’t stop here.

4. There is a pervasive anti-male bias in our culture today, especially in key legacy media outlets. For example, Warren Farrell, author of Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say (Putnam, 1999), sets the situation in the context of the last decade during which this turnabout happened:[14]

    The New York Times and the Today Show have the highest levels of systematic and predictable anti-male bias. The three biggest offenders? The New York Times, Sunday edition, page one; The New York Times Book Review; and the Today Show’s Katie Couric. (See Chapter 8.)
    The United Nations and Which Sex Works More. When Hillary Clinton attended the 1995 UN Conference on Women in Beijing, headlines announced that a UN study found that women worldwide worked more than men. After an investigation, Dr. Farrell got an admission that the UN purposely falsified the data. (See Chapter 5.)

Boys grow up absorbing this bias, and if no one offers a correction, we should not be surprised if it comes out in life choices.

Now for some of the less useful explanations. A classic face saver is offered by a New York Times article:[15]

    Researchers there [in North Carolina] cite several reasons: women tend to have higher grades; men tend to drop out in disproportionate numbers; and female enrollment skews higher among older students, low-income students, and black and Hispanic students.

These are predictors, not causes, of failure to enroll or graduate. But when true causes are not popular to confront or even polite to mention, symptoms are often cited instead, just as they are in medicine.

In “Gender Bias in Education,” Amanda Chapman of D’Youville College is quite certain she knows the answer:[16]

    The socialization of gender within our schools assures that girls are made aware that they are unequal to boys. Every time students are seated or lined up by gender, teachers are affirming that girls and boys should be treated differently. When an administrator ignores an act of sexual harassment, he or she is allowing the degradation of girls. When different behaviors are tolerated for boys than for girls because “boys will be boys,” schools are perpetuating the oppression of females. There is some evidence that girls are becoming more academically successful than boys; however, examination of the classroom shows that girls and boys continue to be socialized in ways that work against gender equity.

When an explanation is essentially explaining a problem that doesn’t exist, it is definitely time to move on.

What about political correctness as a cause?

Political correctness is difficult to discuss because few admit to it directly. Proponents call it “historic justice,” “progress,” or something similar, and supportive media do not challenge them. However, informal comments from academics can tell us something:[17]

    Someone high up [in a government agency] told me that their Human Resources department pre-sorts resumes for job applications by nationality or race. Basically, he said preference is given to people with Hispanic or African American names. He complained that he often did not get to see applications from the most qualified people because they had been “lost.”

And

    I’m finishing a Ph.D. … I’ve been keeping up with the job ads since I will likely be applying for positions this academic year. As a white male, it begins to stand out when every single job ad indicates that women and minorities are particularly encouraged to apply.

Or consider the following bias, and one only beginning to be recognized: the home schooling bias. That is, professors with home schooled children are treated with suspicion in faculty hiring,[18]

    I was rejected for a tenure-track position…. Nevertheless, as a visiting professor, I was permitted in the faculty deliberations on the next five (!) candidates they interviewed, and was astonished that one candidate was rejected out-of-hand for having 5 kids and homeschooling.

As these anecdotes illustrate, much of the present scene can be accounted for by a very large, decades-long, government-backed project in social engineering, resisted with increasing vigor by informed Americans. Its scope can be glimpsed from a look at recent headlines (September 22, 2010) from Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which advocates for students and faculty harassed by the political correctness that is social engineering’s chief engine:[19]

    “Temple Student Government Backs Down from Discriminatory Funding Policy”
    “FIRE Places Billboard Criticizing Bucknell University’s Free Speech Record”
    “Grambling State University Bans Use of E-Mail for Core Political Expression”
    “Victory in Federal Court for Student Expelled for Peaceful Protest; University President Held Personally Responsible for Rights Violation”
    “In Reversal, UCLA Temporarily Halts Retaliation Against Whistleblowing Professor”

The stories behind these headlines are harrowing. Essentially, it is no use to say, but I am just a guy who wants an education and will work hard for it! That guy is just a bean in a political counter and his basic civil rights may be violated routinely on the road to supposed redemption from injustice based on gender, race, ethnicity, class, or lifestyle choices. The only wrong criterion is reward based on achievement.

I’m a minority guy. How does this affect me? Surely I’m protected.

Protected? Not so as anyone would notice. The Incredible Shrinking Man shrinks even faster if he is a minority guy. The National Center for Education Statistics notes,[20]

    The gaps between women and men are especially stark in certain minority populations. Among black students, women earned 69 percent of associate, 66 percent of bachelor’s, 72 percent of master’s, and 66 percent of doctoral degrees in 2007-8.

While all racial and ethnic groups have seen their share of graduates increase overall, there is a growing gap between whites on the one hand and blacks and Hispanics on the other.[21] And if you are Hispanic, the gender gap is growing significantly.[22] As with explanations for the imbalance in general, you will be confronted with many convenient ones that don’t make obvious sense. For example, we are told that many minority boys drop out of high school, rendering themselves ineligible for university, and that minority children often grow up in homes where English is not the first language.

But why are boys in particular dropping out and why should first language be of so much more consequence to boys than girls? For example, Richard Whitmire, education reporter and author of Why Boys Fail, sharpens the obvious question, where minority students are concerned:[23]

    Why, he asked, are black girls growing up in the “same neighborhoods and same schools as their brothers” doing so much better than black boys at high school completion and college enrollment? “Solving racial learning gaps requires solving gender learning gaps,” he said.

Such explanations exculpate bureaucrats and assist crusades for more government-funded programs for minorities (when the current ones don’t work for minority guys now). Deborah Santiago, noted above, suggests that “systemic” changes may be needed to close the Latino gender achievement gap; for example, one might focus on solutions that recognize their “short-term economic needs.” Thus she suggests college work-study programs.

But in disciplines such as mathematics and engineering, such programs (called “co-op” in many places) have been around practically forever, because they are a headhunter-free way for employers to scout promising hires. A real risk is that a program that recognizes, as she suggests, “that many Latino males are contributing to family incomes, not just supporting themselves” can morph into a welfare program instead, with all the destruction we may anticipate when grievance entitlement overtakes personal achievement. That guy in the hardhat and safety boots at least knows he is earning a living following an honorable trade. The other is milking the system.[24]

Just wondering is it lonely for girls on campus without guys?

Some girls seem to think so, and for good reason. As one female Chapel Hill student told The New York Times’s Alex Williams,[25]

    “This is so typical, like all nights, 10 out of 10,” said Kate Andrew, a senior from Albemarle, N.C. The experience has grown tiresome: they slip on tight-fitting tops, hair sculpted, makeup just so, all for the benefit of one another, Ms. Andrew said, “because there are no guys.”

But there is a darker side as well. Despite disclaimers, the gender imbalance contributes directly to the casual hookup culture:[26]

    “If a guy is not getting what he wants, he can quickly and abruptly go to the next one, because there are so many of us,” said Katie Deray, a senior at the University of Georgia, who said that it is common to see six provocatively clad women hovering around one or two guys at a party or a bar.

Presumably, most girls are on campus mainly to get an education, not a guy. But the reality is that, like anyone else, they have multiple reasons for choosing a given setting, and the girl who must spend her evenings with other girls may not have counted on that.

Is there a darker side for society in general in all this?

Some say the gender achievement gap could affect America economically:[27]

    In the eyes of some national experts on higher education, the United States is not making nearly enough progress in moving more students through high schools and colleges to become more significantly competitive in the world economy.
    “We are simply not on a trajectory to significantly ratchet up either access or educational attainment,” said Patrick M. Callan, president of the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. “We cannot tweak our way to international competitiveness.”

Put another way, encouraging the graduation of more therapists and special education teachers for the unemployed may be far less useful to economic recovery than graduating more inventors and engineers who create industries.

There may be more subtle shifts for America as well. One of them concerns athletics. Title IX requires that universities provide equitable athletic opportunities to both male and female athletes. The Carter administration’s worry in 1979 was that colleges favor men’s admissions in order to acquire athletes destined for serious fame, both in college and beyond. Apart from the visible glow of pride, there is the discreet appearance of alumni checkbooks to consider. But legislators have been insisting on equal time and money for women. [28]

The controversial Phyllis Schlafly took this on in 2004, when the results were beginning to be obvious:[29]

    When there are more women than men in a college, as is now typical, Title IX regulations mandate that women outnumber men by the same ratio on its competitive sports teams. Consequently, across the United States at every level, schools have eliminated men’s teams solely to meet the quota set by total enrollment.
    This has forced, for example, Howard University to eliminate men’s teams such as baseball in order to reduce the overall total of male relative to female athletes. Meanwhile, women’s sports that use large squad sizes, such as rowing and horseback riding, are sprouting up at many colleges.
    Title IX has compelled colleges to eliminate hundreds of teams having large male squads, such as wrestling and track. At the same time, colleges are offering full-ride scholarships to women with no experience in sports that are easy to learn, such as crew.

Few of the sports aimed at women produce careers or long term public interest.

Was Schlafly right? In any event, it’s not obvious that she’s wrong. Moreover, it’s not self-evident that changes to college athletics that result in cancelling or dumbing down men’s programs will actually help Americans be more competitive in the fields that count with the public and create large industries.

What is the government’s approach to the Invisible Man problem?

Government in America is currently intensifying the problem. For example, as Alex Williams notes for The New York Times,[30]

    The gender gap is not universal. The Ivy League schools are largely equal in gender, and some still tilt male. But at some schools, efforts to balance the numbers have been met with complaints that less-qualified men are being admitted over more-qualified women. In December, the United States Commission on Civil Rights moved to subpoena admissions data from 19 public and private colleges to look at whether they were discriminating against qualified female applicants.

Similarly, from Inside Higher Ed (November 2, 2009), we learn,[31]

    The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has started an inquiry into the extent to which liberal arts colleges discriminate against female applicants in an attempt to minimize gender imbalances in the student body. On Friday, the commission agreed on a set of colleges—primarily in the Washington area—to investigate, but declined to release a full list.
    The issue is an extremely sensitive one for liberal arts colleges, many of which in recent years have worried about their gender ratios reaching points (60 percent female is commonly cited) where they face difficulty in attracting both male and female applicants. Generally private undergraduate colleges have the legal right to consider gender in admissions. They were specifically exempted from the admissions provisions of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
    But despite that legal right, many at liberal arts colleges are uncomfortable about either the extent of admissions favoritism some colleges may engage in, or are embarrassed about it receiving public attention.

Most likely, the embarrassment would be in the exact opposite direction than the one implied by the Inside Higher Ed article, discrimination against men rather than women.

So what’s a guy to do?

Well, first, if you are a guy who wants an education, persist. It’s a cliché, sure, but you can’t win if you do not stay in the game. The second thing is, learn all you can about the ways in which political correctness and social engineering now pervade our society, especially the university, where it was hatched. Work with others to take prudent steps in favor of achievement-based advancement rather than entitlement-based advancement. This is not the time or place for Lone Rangers or semi-famous last stands. Where possible, make use of organizations dedicated to academic freedom. Those organizations rely on you to tell them what is happening. If your grades permit, pick one of the fields less shackled by political correctness—usually fields were achievement is the only criterion that counts. And above all, keep your sense of humor. A degree will only give you satisfaction if you really enjoy winning.

Notes

[1] http://www.career-journal.com/en/aktuellesaushochschulen/160.html?infoView=23873.

[2] UNESCO Global Education Digest (2009)

http://www.career-journal.com/en/aktuellesaushochschulen/160.html?infoView=23873.

[3] Peter Schmidt, “Men’s Share of College Enrollments Will Continue to Dwindle, Federal Report Says”, The Chronicle of Higher Education (May 27, 2010)

http://chronicle.com/article/Mens-Share-of-College/65693.

[4] Scott Jaschik, “Women Lead in Doctorates,” Inside Higher Ed (September 14, 2010)

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/09/14/doctorates.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Schmidt, “Men’s Share Will Dwindle.”

[7] Ibid.

[8] Jaschik, “Women Lead in Doctorates.”

[9] Alex Williams, “The New Math on Campus,” New York Times (February 5, 2010) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/07/fashion/07campus.html.

[10] Personal communication.

[11] Scott Jaschik, “Gender Gap Stops Growing,” Inside Higher Ed (January 26, 2010) http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/01/26/gender.

[12] Schmidt, “Men’s Share Will Dwindle.”

[13] Richard Whitmire, Why Boys Fail: Saving Our Sons from an Educational System That’s Leaving Them Behind (January 13, 2010). An excerpt may be read here:

http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Books/excerpt-boys-fail-richard-whitmire/story?id=9561763.

[14] http://www.backlash.com/content/gender/1999/9-sep99/wfar0999.html.

[15] Williams, “New Math.”

[16] Amanda Chapman, “Gender Bias in Education,” Critical Multicultural Pavilion Research Room (undated): http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/papers/genderbias.html.

[17] Personal communications.

[18] Personal communication.

[19] The Foundation’s website is http://www.thefire.org.

[20] Schmidt, “Men’s Share Will Dwindle.”

[21] Ibid.

[22] Jaschik, “Gender Gap Stops Growing.”

[23] Whitmire, Why Boys Fail.

[24] Jaschik, “Gender Gap Stops Growing.”

[25] Williams, “New Math.”

[26] Ibid.

[27] Schmidt, “Men’s Share Will Dwindle.”

[28] “Probe of Extra Help for Men” Inside Higher Ed (November 2, 2009)

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/11/02/admit.

[29] Phyllis Schlafly, “How Title IX Is Holding Us Back in Athens” Eagle Forum (Aug. 25, 2004) http://www.eagleforum.org/column/2004/aug04/04-08-25.html.

[30] Williams, “New Math.”

[31] “Probe of Extra Help for Men.”

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