Missing: Males on College Campuses

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Some
researchers call them the “Lost
Boys.”
They are the students you don’t see on college campuses.

The
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) tracks
the enrollment
in all degree-granting institutions by sex. From
1992 to 2000, the ratio of enrolled males to females fell from 82
to 78 boys for every 100 girls. The NCES projects that in 2007 the
ratio will be 75 males for every 100 females; in 2012, 74 per 100.

In
short, your son is statistically more likely than your daughter
to work a blue-collar job.

Thomas
Mortenson, senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of
Opportunity in Higher Education, argues that leaving a generation
of boys behind hurts women as well. In a Business
Week
cover story, Mortenson observed, “My belief is that
until women decide that the education of boys is a serious issue,
nothing is going to happen.”

He
believes some women feel threatened by even admitting the problem
because “it will take away from the progress of women…What everyone
needs to realize is that if boys continue to slide, women will lose
too.”

That
realization still seems distant among educational experts, who continue
to downplay the NCES statistic as well as other data
that indicate schools are hurting boys.

Jacqueline
King – author of the influential study “Gender
Equity in Higher Education: Are Male Students at a Disadvantage?”

– is an example. She found that 68 percent of college enrollees
from low-income families were female; only 31 percent were male.

Yet
King insists there is no “boy crisis” in education despite the fact
that data from Upward Bound and Talent Search show a comparable
gender gap. (These college-preparation programs operate in high
schools and received
$312.6 million $144.9 million in tax funding, respectively, in 2005.)
Of the students who receive benefits from those college-preparation
programs, approximately 61 percent are girls; 39 percent are boys.

King’s
quoted
explanation
of the gender gaps: “women make up a disproportionate
share of low-income students” who go on to college. Since low-income
families presumably give birth to boys in the same ratio as the
general population – worldwide the ratio is between 103 to 107 boys
for every 100 girls – why are so few boys applying for assistance?
A higher drop-out rate might be partly responsible, or boys may
have no interest in higher education.

King
comments on the latter explanation: “male low-income students have
some ability in this strong economy to make a decent living with
just a high-school diploma.” In particular, she points to the construction
industry.

King
may be correct. The fact that low-income boys gravitate toward manual
labor may account for some of the educational gender disparity.
What is striking, however, is her apparent dismissal of that disparity
as important. She seems to accept the reality that far fewer men
than women enroll in college and that poor boys enter “the trades”
while poor girls become professionals.

Imagine
the gender ratio being reversed, with 78 girls for every 100 boys
entering college. Imagine a generation of poor girls being relegated
to low social status labor while tax funding assists poor boys.
It is difficult to believe King would be similarly unconcerned.

Nevertheless,
merely by acknowledging the situation, King shows far more balance
than prominent voices, like the American
Association of University Women
, which still maintains there
is a “girl crisis.”

Fortunately,
researchers like Judith Kleinfeld of the University of Alaska see
that boys are in distress.

Kleinfeld
– author of “The
Myth That Schools Shortchange Girls”
– states, “In my own
college classes, I see a sea change in the behavior of young men.
In the 1980s, the young men talked in my classes about the same
as young women. I know because each semester I measured male and
female talk. Now so many young men are disengaged that the more
articulate, ambitious women dominate the classroom … and my office
hours.”

Kleinfeld
tried to trace the problem backward by interviewing high school
students on plans for their future. She states, “The young women
almost always have a clear, realistic plan – go to college,
have a career, often directed toward an idealistic goals about improving
the environment.”

This
clarity of vision and was generally absent in young men.

Among
those who acknowledge the “boy crisis,” explanations vary and may
all be true. Some point to the “feminization” of education over
the last decade, which occurred largely in response to a perceived
need to encourage girls. But, if boys and girls learn differently,
then the changes may be placing boys at a disadvantage.

Others
point to explicitly anti-male attitudes – that is, political correctness
– within education. The website Illinois
Loop
lists “22 School Practices That May Harm Boys.” One of
them: “‘Modern’ textbooks and recommended literature often go to
extremes to remove male role models as lead characters and examples.”

Kleinfeld
points speculatively to the impact of increased divorce and fatherless
homes
on the self-image of boys who lack a positive male role-model.

Approximately
40 percent of American children now live in homes without their
own biological father.

Ultimately,
explanations of and solutions to the “boy crisis” will come from
exploring a combination of factors. My solution: privatize education
and place it under the control of parents or adult students.

The
first step to any solution, however, is to acknowledge there is
a problem. We are not quite there yet.

June
16, 2005

Wendy
McElroy [send her mail]
is the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The
Independent Institute
in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and
editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty
for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century

(Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).

Wendy
McElroy Archives

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