Issue 4: The Gender Gap in College Enrollment and Success

Issue 4: The Gender Gap in College Enrollment and Success
Since the 1980s, women have soared in college attendance and graduation, leaving men behind. This gap is expected to increase in the United States. The college gender gap has become a policy issue in many countries, especially western, industrialized nations. This gender gap has serious implications because a college degrees is linked to higher earnings, increased civic participation, marriage and family stability, rates of incarceration, and national economic competitiveness in a global environment. As males fall behind women in college completion, many well-educated women will not find marriage partners with similar values and interests. Young men with only a high school education or below have become the “big losers” as income gaps between the rich and poor grow in the United States.
Research and Policy Questions: Why are men underrepresented in colleges and what accounts for the turnaround since the 1980s? To what extent is this problem caused by fewer high school seniors enrolling in college and to what extent is it caused by more mature women compared to mature men returning to college? Why do many young men choose not to go to college? Do young men see college, for example, as a continuation of the type of schooling they have grown to dislike in high school? Do they receive less encouragement from families and teachers? Can young men get high-paying jobs right after high school more easily than young women?
Another important area of research centers on the responses of institutions of higher education to the decline in the proportion of male students. Do admissions officers and equal educational opportunity program directors consider the under-representation of men as a “policy problem” deserving attention? What programs are underway to increase the participation of men and what evidence do we have of their success? What new college and university programs and changes in educational strategies in the college classroom would increase the interest of young men in college and prevent them from dropping out?
1. Sum, A., Fogg, N. & Harrington, P. (2003). The growing gender gaps in college enrollment and degree attainment in the U.S. and their potential economic and social consequences. Boston Center for Labor Market Studies: Northeastern University.
These researchers find that the gains in college attendance and degree attainment have been far greater among young women than young men and projections suggest the college gender gap will increase. The report is particularly useful in pointing out links between college degrees, fewer men are now earning and desirable economic and social outcomes, such as reducing unemployment and underemployment, boosting the productivity levels of firms, increasing real annual earnings, increasing civic engagement such as volunteerism and voting, reducing crime rates and incarceration, increasing marriage rates, increasing the fathering of children within marriage, and increasing the educational and economic prospects of their children.
2. Jacob, B. A. (2001). Where the boys aren’t: Non-cognitive skills, returns to school and the gender gap in higher education. Economics of Education Review, 21, 589-598.
Using longitudinal data from a nationally representative cohort of eighth grade students in 1988, Jacobs identifies factors related to the college enrollment gap. These include lower high school achievement among males, working 20 hours a week or more during high school, growing up in a single-parent household, higher economic returns to a college education for women compared to men, and non-cognitive skills, such as grades (which measure in part willingness to comply with school demands). Males also are more apt to dislike school and say that they would rather work and earn money than attend college.


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