Fewer Men Are Attending College

Posted By Terri Williams on July 17, 2015 at 11:54 am
Fewer Men Are Attending College

Men once dominated the halls of academia, but that trend is now changing. According to the “The Condition of Education 2015,” a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, there are now more females than males enrolled in college, and male students are less likely to complete a degree than their female counterparts.

  • Percentage of persons ages 18-24 who are enrolled in 2- and 4-year colleges: 43% female vs. 37% male
  • Percentage of persons ages 25-29 who completed a bachelor’s degree: 37% female vs. 30% male
  • The percentage of students who will graduate within 6 years of entering college: 62% female vs. 56% male
  • Total percentage of bachelor’s degrees awarded to females: 57%

In addition,

  • 450,000 master’s degrees were awarded to females, vs. 302,000 awarded to males
  • 89,900 doctorate degrees were awarded to females vs. 85,100 awarded to males

However, the disparities don’t start in higher education. For boys, successfully navigating throughout elementary and high school can be a feat in itself:

  • 84% of girls but only 77% of boys graduate from high school
  • Boys are 30% more likely than girls to drop out of school
  • Boys are 4 times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD
  • Girls outperform boys in grades and homework in elementary school, high school, college, and graduate school

But statistics only paint one half of the portrait – there are a lot of factors that help to account for these disparities. According to PBS Parents:

  • The average boy is not as mature as the average girl when he starts school
  • Elementary school classrooms are language-based, and girls outperform boys in language
  • Many boys are more active than girls, and they struggle to sit still for extended periods of time
  • Many boys learn from “doing,” and they don’t have as many opportunities to be hands-on in the classroom
  • There are not as many male role models in school, and some male students assert their masculinity by acting out against their female teachers

A lack of effort, not ability

In an interview with Ohio State University, Claudio Buchmann, author of “The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What it Means for American Schools,” presents an interesting theory. She argues that the college gender gap is tied to achievement level, and that boys have a long history of performing poorly as compared to girls. Historically, that didn’t matter as much, because male students could always find jobs that paid well and did not require a degree. However, now that those jobs are scarcer, the academic performance of boys is front and center.

During the interview, Buchmann also says that boys and girls are similar in cognitive ability. However, boys are typically not as engaged and do not put forth as much effort as girls. In fact, girls are more likely to say they like school and more likely to value the importance of making good grades.

The top third of boys who are successful in school are from white-collar families. Whether they like school or not, Buchmann says they have been taught to do well in school so they can secure a good job. However, she says that many boys from middle- and low-income families may be told that school serves to feminize them, whereas masculinity is defined by physical strength and manual labor.

Buchmann also admits that the boys in the bottom third may not have either the skills or the resources to complete a four-year degree – she recommends focusing instead on the middle third. These boys are usually “B” students, with a sprinkling of “C”s. She says schools must clearly dispel the gendered notion that education isn’t manly, and also clearly define the type of grades and classes that are necessary for college. Boys need to learn how to develop study skills and how to stay motivated.

Creating their own future

There are also other theories that explain the decreasing presence of males on college campuses. Melissa Cohen, a licensed social worker and coach who works with teens and parents, is also the author of “ParentKnowledgy – A (Simple) Guide to Surviving Your Teen.” She thinks fewer males are attending college because they believe it is a waste of time and money, and they feel that the real education is in experience.

“They weigh the affordability and value of a college education, and since most will probably be in debt when they graduate, they do not feel that they are receiving the best ROI for their time,” says Cohen. She explains that some males tend to take less interest in higher education, and since many colleges do not actively recruit males the same way they do females, males are choosing to make their own way. “The ever-changing economic landscape and the ability to take risks have many millennial males choosing to join the entrepreneurial culture that is growing and create their own future.”

Psychosocial factors

Esther Boykin, CEO and Managing Partner of Group Therapy Associates in the District of Columbia metro area, says the decision, and necessary follow-through to attend college, is as much psychosocial as it is academic or financial.

“Unfortunately, many young men are not getting the emotional and social education and support they need to thrive in the next step toward adult life,” says Boykin.  While boys experience the same levels of stress and have similar – sometimes higher – rates of mental health issues in adolescence as girls, they often get far less support. “Culturally, we have adopted a gender stereotype that forces boys and men to hide their emotional lives for fear of being seen as ‘less of a man.’ When unable to do that, they may be categorized as troublemakers, bad students, or learning-disabled in middle and high school.”

However, when we ignore boys’ experiences and relegate them to “smart” or “athletic” with little attention to their emotional, social, and psychological well-being, Boykin warns that we do not allow them the same opportunity to thrive in college. “They are left with hidden obstacles that manifest as violent or anti-social behavior, or they simply drop out of academically-challenging activities.”

She admits that there is a wide range of factors that keep males from attending college, including financial pressure and access to academic programs. However, Boykin concludes, “Understanding the role of our gender stereotypes on their mental health is vital to changing the trend.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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