Women in College: The Gender Gap Grows
Mary Anne Feeney
published Jan. 22, 2001 on studentadvantage.com.
the eleventh in a series of articles and columns on the lives of
women in college today.
"When I was
a communications major approximately 75 percent of the people in
my classes were female," Matthew Geller, a senior at Fordham University,
said. "When I switched to my science major the number dropped to
around 50 percent."
a school made up mostly of women make a difference in a male student's
educational experience? "Not for me," Geller said. "What matters
more is the overall academic atmosphere, which I feel is a very
positive one for both men and women alike."
is comfortable attending a school where females are in the majority
Fordham is 60 percent female many critics have a problem
with the fact that women are increasingly outnumbering men in U.S.
colleges. Certain schools have even considered instituting affirmative
action policies for men to counter the trend.
In 1999, 8.5
million women enrolled in U.S. colleges, versus 6.4 million men,
according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. Last
year women made up 57 percent of those entering college. That percentage
is expected to rise to 61 percent by 2009, according to the NCES.
have historically been in the minority, however. Many educators
say this is because encouragement and educational opportunities
for women have traditionally been lacking. In 1947, only 39 percent
of college enrollees were women, according to the U.S. Department
of Education. The initiation of affirmative action in 1964, the
recent proliferation of gender-specific scholarships and the increasing
number of women entering the work force has helped turn that tide.
All the Cowboys Gone?
Is this new
shift in college enrollment causing a crisis for men?
the American Council on Education issued a report entitled "Gender
Equity in Higher Education: Are Male Students at a Disadvantage?"
The report, written by Jacqueline King, director of ACE's Center
for Policy Analysis, examined the reasons why women currently outnumber
men on college campuses.
that, despite the trend toward a greater proportion of female enrollees,
there is no educational crisis among men. King acknowledged, however,
that "there are pockets of real problems."
showed that the number of male students in college has remained
relatively stable since 1975, but the number of women rose from
5 million in 1975 to 8 million in 1997. King reported that, although
more women are enrolled in both public and private colleges nationwide,
"These statistics . mask tremendous differences by academic level,
age, race/ethnicity, and income."
disparity is present among families earning less than $30,000, where
68 percent of college enrollees are women. "While both male and
female low-income students tend to be less well-prepared for college
. male low-income students have some ability in this strong economy
to make a decent living with just a high-school diploma," King said.
As long as the economy is strong, fields like construction will
continue to offer good jobs, according to King.
said, "For women, the typical jobs for a high-school graduate are
not nearly as good." Most jobs for women with high-school degrees
are "pink collar," or service jobs such as retail sales that rarely
pay above the minimum wage. "Low-income women are forced by the
job market to overcome their academic disadvantages and pursue some
type of postsecondary degree," King said.
Certified Educational Planner and Consultant, agrees. "Girls are
going to college because their interests will lie in careers needing
better-honed academic training. A boy can always work in a labor-intensive
job in which he can make a decent living," she said.
also indicated that African-American and Hispanic men particularly
lag behind their female peers in educational attainment. Her report
stated that two-thirds of African-American college-age students
out, however, that this gender gap does not exist on all levels
of higher education. Men currently hold the majority in the two
largest fields for master's degrees: business and engineering. "I
think that women have not yet caught up to men in doctoral and professional
education," King said, "but that the percentage of women in these
programs is on the rise." Producing more women engineers, mathematicians
and scientists will "require reversing the notion . that boys are
naturally better at math and science and that it is somehow not
feminine to excel in these subjects," she said.
Is There a
have had notable disagreements with King's report. One of these
critics is Thomas G. Mortenson, senior scholar at the Center for
the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education and an independent
analyst of higher education policy. Mortenson is trying to convince
the public that socioeconomic issues have little to do with the
growing gender gap.
So, is affirmative
action for men the next step in gaining gender equality in college?
"I truly hope
not," Mortenson said. "Affirmative action treats the symptoms, not
the causes of the problem." He suggests looking more closely at
the performance of males in the K-12 education system and trying
to find out what can be done to encourage males to continue their
Massa, Vice President of Enrollment at Dickinson College, said,
"What is really needed is a program that at an early age
gives positive feedback for academic achievement to young
that a conversation about the lack of men enrolling in college needs
to happen on a national level. No affirmative action program will
help address these trends, he said; schools need to figure out how
to get men to apply to college, not to simply give them preference
of Higher Education hosted a chat on November 1, in which King and
Mortenson fielded questions and posed their findings on the U.S.
college gender gap. The two sparred often during the chat, particularly
over whether the gap suggests that the educational system has become
biased against men.
last 20 years," Mortenson said, "amongst white students the proportion
of bachelor's degrees going to males has declined from 55 to 45
percent." He added that females were more likely to graduate from
high school than males, regardless of family income.
"There are real problems for low-income and minority men, and we
should focus on those, and not become distracted by concerns that
there is a broader problem among all men."
however, remains worried about a future with fewer and fewer men
entering college. "There are fundamental changes occurring in the
world that appear to be having different effects on men and women;
changes like urbanization, job-market changes and the fact of change
itself," Mortenson said. "In this environment women appear to be
prospering and men don't.
"I'm not sure
that we've yet seen the tip of the iceberg on this issue," he said.
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Women in College series:
Long Road to Equality
The New Century's Student Body
(on undergrad enrollment trends)
Lack of Faculty Equality, Female Profs Say
We, the Teachers (column on female
Why I Hate Men (column on women's
How Women's Studies Was Born
Mourning the Death of Radcliffe
Where Boys Need Not Apply
Life as a ROTC Woman
The Gender Gap Grows