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several decades ago, about two-thirds of the student body
was male. “I don’t recall anyone going nuts over it,” he said.
“I think it’s easy to look at a trend like this and overstate the
repercussions. At this point we don’t really knowwhat it
means.”
Jacqueline King, director of policy analysis at the American
Council on Education, would like to see the emphasis placed
onminority and low-income white males. “The trend impacts
all groups, that’s true, but as income rises, the gender gap
decreases somewhat. Economically, if you look at the bottom
rung of males, you see a truly terrible situation.”
King also argues that the shift to a female majority does
not suggest that females are grabbing
college spots formerly held by men.
“Higher education is not a zero-sum
game,” she said. “It tends to expand to
accommodate new groups and larger
numbers of a group such as women.
Women are not taking spots away
frommen, they are taking advantage
of an expanded pie.”
She agrees, however, that the
male decline is troubling and raises
many unanswered questions. When asked if she could explain
why males, even those frommiddle and upper-middle class
families, have gone into a tailspin, she replied, “No, I really
don’t know the answer. I’mnot sure anyone does.”
For individual colleges, the question is what, if anything,
can be done to keep gender parity on their campuses. James
Maxey, at ACT, says the options are fairly clear. “They can
pushmore scholarship dollars at boys, they can practice some
version of affirmative action, or they can spendmore time and
energy recruiting boys,” he said.
Several college officials interviewed for this story said
institutions probably were utilizing all those strategies although
they would be loathe to admit it. “When a college sees its
gender gap getting close to 60/40, they’re going to get nervous
because that’s roughly the point where the college starts to
lose its attractiveness to bothmales and
females,” said one official. “In that situation
the leadership will take steps to pull in
more boys, even if those steps are carried
out under the table. The market realities
are such that I don’t think they have a
choice.”
One reason for the reluctance of
colleges to discuss their tactics was
described by Rebecca Zwick, of the
University of California, Santa Barbara, in
her recent book, “Fair Game?The Use of
Standardized Tests in Higher Education.”
She cites the case of the University of
Georgia, which has a sizable majority of
women, trying tomaintain a balanced
campus by giving men preference among
borderline candidates. A female applicant
filed a lawsuit over the practice and the
university dropped it.
Zwick also refers to an annual meeting
of the National Association for College Admission Counseling
where one participant referred to affirmative action for men as
“the issue that dare not speak its name.”
Though the undergraduate national gender gap stands at
57 percent women, the phenomenon is not evenly distributed
across all campuses. In general, small liberal arts colleges have
been hit hardest by the shortage of males, and large public
universities the least. That is because large public institutions
usually have engineering departments, business schools, and
football and basketball teams, all significant draws for men.
Small liberal arts colleges often do not.
And within the liberal arts group there is a pecking order.
Top-tier schools have encountered little difficulty thus far
inmaintaining a 50/50 balance while second- and third-
tier schools have found it almost impossible. One official
speculated that this might reflect an unspoken affirmative
action policy on the part of first-tier schools that are admitting
male students that formerly would have attended a lower-tier
institution.
James Jones, president of Trinity College in Hartford,
Connecticut, says his institution is not finding it difficult to
maintain a balanced student body, in part because of Trinity’s
high-level reputation and also because the college has an
engineering school and specializes in business and finance.
“But when I was president of Kalamazoo we struggled to
keep the student body at 55 percent women and 45 percent
men,” he said. “What you will find is that any traditional
liberal arts college—except those in the highest tier—are really
struggling with imbalance.”
Jones points out that colleges and universities are actually
caught in the middle of the problem. Males begin to drift away
from academic achievement long before their college years,
and their failure to earn postsecondary degrees will affect the
larger culture long after the college period.
“We are looking at a very serious issue. This is a
complicated, seismic shift, and the schools must address
it,” Jones said. “But by ‘schools’ I do not mean just higher
education. I mean from the first grade on through college.”
By the time senior
year arrives, a large
percentage of boys have
already abandoned the
college track.
Percentage
43.9 TO 49.7 (13)
42.4 TO 43.9 (12)
41.7 TO 42.4 (11)
36.7 TO 41.7 (14)
42.7
43.9
41.1
44.1
45.1
40.8
44.9
41.9
43.7
39.6
41.7
40.4
41.1
42.9
41.6
42.0
42.4
45.2
42.5
41.3
45.8
43.3
39.1
41.8
44.0
42.2
42.3
41.8
42.1
43.9
41.6
43.0
41.6
36.7
42.9
46.9
49.7
46.1
46.0
43.8
44.8
43.8
42.2
42.9
41.2
41.6
41.9
42.7
43.1
42.1
Male Share of Bachelor’s Degrees by State
2002