A Generation of American Men Give Up on College (WSJ Article)

This is a very interesting WSJ article (of course it is behind a paywall) on the decline of men at US two and four-year colleges and I just wanted to share a few quotes from the article and ask what other CC’ers think about this phenomenon.

“At the close of the 2020-21 academic year, women made up 59.5% of college students, an all-time high, and men 40.5%, according to enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit research group. U.S. colleges and universities had 1.5 million fewer students compared with five years ago, and men accounted for 71% of the decline.”

“In the next few years, two women will earn a college degree for every man, if the trend continues, said Douglas Shapiro, executive director of the research center at the National Student Clearinghouse.”

“No reversal is in sight. Women increased their lead over men in college applications for the 2021-22 school year—3,805,978 to 2,815,810—by nearly a percentage point compared with the previous academic year, according to Common Application, a nonprofit that transmits applications to more than 900 schools. Women make up 49% of the college-age population in the U.S., according to the Census Bureau.”

“Young women appear eager to take leadership roles, making up 59% of student body presidents in the 2019-20 academic year and 74% of student body vice presidents.”

“Many young men are hobbled by a lack of guidance, a strain of anti-intellectualism and a growing belief that college degrees don’t pay off, said Ed Grocholski, a senior vice president at Junior Achievement USA, which works with about five million students every year to teach about career paths, financial literacy and entrepreneurship.

“What I see is there is a kind of hope deficit,” Mr. Grocholski said.

I have talked to others about this trend, but I didn’t realize that the numbers were skewing as quickly as the article shared. Men today make up a large majority of executives in Government, Fortune 500 companies, and are still paid more than their female counterparts, so I wonder if this trend will “balance” those discrepancies long-term or will this cause problems that end up causing a majority of schools to give men a stronger preference in admissions? Is this a doomsday scenario for institutions of higher learning (the continued decline in the number of young men attending college)?

Are men “giving up” on college, or are they just not increasing their interest in college while women may be?

But it should also be noted that graduation rate from high school is lower for men than for women. If there is “giving up” or other reasons behind the differences in men and women going to college, then perhaps it starts earlier than the point of considering going to college.

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I have been trying to read this article for a couple of days now- can’t get past the paywall. My daughter’s and I looked up some numbers, to try to figure out why schools are so female dominated. In looking at numbers- the white males going to college hasn’t changed that much since the 70’s (I can’t remember what the most recent year we could get data from). The big difference was the percentage of women who go to college since the 70’s has exploded. Women have taken full advantage of the opportunity.

The major lacking point was minority men. Colleges really need to do a better job of seeking them out and helping them.

As far as men getting preference, they already do in certain majors- as do women in others.

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Let me know if the paywall is still on this link.

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That worked! Thank you!

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Page shows a chart comparing graduation rates by family income quartile, race/ethnicity, and gender. Observations of the chart:

  • Family income quartile is highly correlated with college attendance.
  • Race/ethnicity within family income quartile does not make much difference, except for Asian college attendance rates being significantly higher than for other races within the same family income quartile and gender.
  • The gender difference in college attendance is consistent across all family income quartiles and races, except:
    • For Black students in the top family income quartile, the college attendance rates by gender are reversed compared to White and Hispanic students in the top family income quartile, although it is possible that this is a graphics mistake.
    • For Asian students, there is very little gender difference in college attendance rates.
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Here’s a good resource leveraging IPEDS data in a dynamic format you can filter or sort to see how schools differ in admission rates for men and women:

Of course, different admission rates do not mean that the college is actually favoring one gender over another.

For example, San Jose State University (SJSU) has a 12.97% difference in admission rate (higher for women), according to that web page.

How SJSU does admission is that it calculates an eligibility index as described at Impaction | Admissions . There are no points for gender, and the only factor that is likely to favor gender is a minor point value for military status (because more military status people are men than women). In other words, the 12.97% higher admission rate for women is not due to any admission preference for women.

However, SJSU does admit by major: Freshmen Impaction Results | Admissions . If men apply to more popular and selective majors like computer science, then that may explain their lower admission rate, even if their distribution of eligibility indices were similar to that of women.

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Yes, that is a factor, and keeping that context in mind is important, though I offered the link without comment. Accepting your example and adding another, at UPenn, Wharton (and SEAS) oversample in men, while CAS (and Nursing) oversample in women. UPenn looks fairly balanced overall, but there is sorting (self-selection) happening through applicants’ choices of majors and associated undergraduate schools.

Derek Thompson wrote a piece on this in The Atlantic today. He takes a rather sensible line of This is not new, This is not due to one factor, This will affect the broader society pretty quickly, and This will take a deep and wide set of solutions that attack the underlying problems. Not a substantial piece, but a good survey that touches on many of the relevant elements.

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This is so sad. And my son is one of these men. I don’t know what to do but just watch. It’s horrible

Wish I could read this! Our high school guidance office still honors those who don’t want college, or want to study, say, fire science at community college. A lot of kids here go into the trades. I wish there was less pressure to go to college to be honest, and more guidance on other paths.

I’m sorry that you can’t read it. I know it says you have to be a subscriber. I am not a subscriber but it lets me read something like 4 articles per month. You might be able to access it that way by searching in the web. Sorry that the link I posted won’t give access.

Nice to hear about your guidance counseling office. :heart:

I think a large part is parenting and how boys use and resist the internet differently than girls.

See if this will work for you.

I think there are bigger forces at play than parenting. Internet is one - how girls do social media is different than boys, and has its own sets of issues for girls.

Watching what has happened and continues to happen with kiddo’s friends, boys and girls, over the years, there is a lot more pressure for boys to be non-school oriented almost from the jump. Girls get a lot more positive reinforcement for being studious and achievement-oriented. Boys get a lot of pressure and positive reinforcement to be athletes. By middle school most of the top students were girls.

I have heard some people theorize that a chunk of that trend is because school has been feminized over time. Classrooms are less tolerant of boys’ more active learning styles. I am skeptical, because classrooms have always been populated by female teachers, and used to be more strict about kids acting out. Of course, there are a significant number of boys - and some girls too - that are medicated to deal with behavioral issues, which I gotta think has an effect on the numbers.

I do see restless boys who go down the addictive twin rabbit holes of the internet and video games. There seem to be a lot that lose their way early on and get stuck.

One factor may be that men have better options if they don’t go to college - the trades for example. So the time and expense of college isn’t as logical. But for women, the way to better paying jobs almost requires a degree. So of course there are more women in college, but that isn’t a success story for women as it is portrayed in the story. In that way the story may be more that the trend of college for everyone is reverting back to a normalized lower level for boys, but not girls. And that it might be more of an indictment of what culture is doing to girls (debt, for one thing) more than boys.

I hope that people look into this more. There is a lot going on and I see it as feeding a dangerous political and social trend.

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Thanks yes I read it. For me, the troubling aspect is the perception that college is the only way to success, as well as the fact that, unfortunately, this has become a reality. The hard part is that after a lot of work and expense, a bachelor’s degree grad may still end up working in the warehouse, and these kids know that.

More attention and resources need to go to other paths. And other paths need to be honored with the same dignity as college.

One thing parents can recommend is volunteering while working, to test out some fields. And community colleges are a huge resource with certificates and associate’s degrees in some relatively high paying fields like radiology tech, for instance, or, yes fire science. A young person can build a resume with volunteering and work, as well.

Sadly, internships tend to go to college students. How about changing that?

ps I was remembering that in the late '60’s, more men were in college due to draft deferment.

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This is a longstanding trend, and I remember reading some discussions in the Chronicle of Higher Education when I was in grad school back in the 90s of whether the trend was actually happening (spoiler: it was, the divergence seems to have taken root around 1990).

Which means, first off, that you can’t lay this at the feet of social media. Whatever the reason, there have now been decades of researchers trying to figure it out, but nobody’s come up with an explanation that’s really explanatory aside from the fact that (as mentioned upthread by @ucbalumnus and possibly others) girls have been more successful in K–12 schooling than boys, and that seems to simply continue on into college—but that’s not really a satisfying explanation, it’s more a shifting of its locus.

(However, the scholarly literature on why the K–12 disparity exists appears to be if anything even more inconclusive than the research into the disparity in postsecondary outcomes, so no help there.)

I think this is deserving of much greater attention. We moved our S to an all boys school in second grade due to a horrible experience with his 1st grade teacher (who was young with no kids) and how she dealt with boys.

The school he attended actually thought about and implemented systems and curriculum that incorporated how boys learn, how they behave. For example, in elementary school, every other class period involved an activity so sitting still at a desk wasn’t for hours at a time: for example math, recess, English, lunch, science, gym, social studies, music, foreign language. More hands on learning was incorporated.

Boys have energy and their attention spans/ability to sit for longer periods of time often don’t develop as early as girls. Yet most public school schedules are designed in a way that favors girls from the beginning. I often wonder whether boys would have better long term educational outcomes if more schools realized that there are actual differences between boys and girls and how they learn and behave.

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So college is a great place to pick up women…just sayin!