Friday, November 30, 2007

The Decline of Men In College--What is the Real Problem

George Leef asks that question in an op-ed for the Charlotte Observer.
Men are now underrepresented in many colleges and universities. Should we worry about that?


I think the answer is no -- and yes.

No, because the common idea that among any large population, such as college student bodies, we should expect to see all groups of people proportionally represented is mistaken. People make decisions as individuals, each trying to do whatever is best, given his or her own circumstances, abilities, beliefs and goals. Young adults who enroll in college -- or decide not to -- are usually acting with care and deliberation.
Leef notes that the fact that more men are choosing not to go to college is a factor of a labor market that rewards work that does not require higher education, things like construction, auto repair, etc. These are good trades in which a person can make a substantial living without a bachelor's degree. Leef also argues that such labor options are not as available for women.

Leef also posits that our K-12 education may be turning boys off to education, making higher education even less attractive:
For years, there has been a movement in K-12 education built upon the notion that schools should try to make boys more like girls. This is another of those "progressive" education theories designed to remake and improve the world -- in this instance by socializing boys out of their supposedly harmful competitive and aggressive tendencies. Professor Christina Hoff Sommers, author of "The War Against Boys," calls it the feminization of education.

Under this approach, schools are replacing reading material that might appeal more to boys (for example, stories with adventure and conflict) with stories having "better" messages. They're also trying to reduce or eliminate competition.

The result is that school becomes less interesting for boys. Of course, many do well anyway, but this approach causes some to lose interest at an early age. Far more boys than girls get bored and drop out, in part because of the feminization of schooling.

So the dominance of women on campus may be alerting us to a real problem -- the fact that early education is turning many boys off, keeping them from making the most of opportunities to develop their minds.
I am not willing to go that far, but some of what Leef says is accurate, K-12 education is not appealing to boys and is not geared toward them at all.

But I wonder if something else might be at play here--the growing avaialability and prevelance of higher education for everyone. Prior to Title IX and the push for broader college accessibility for everyone, college was restricted largely to those who could afford it and men. Following Title IX, the growth of women in college expanded-perhaps at the expense of some lesser qualified men, but in all likelihood the male population on campus was not affected much. As the educational opportunities for men and women expanded in terms of the types of programs available for students who otherwise might not have gone to college, whether for financial or academic purposes, I think the number of women on campus grew at a higher marginal rate, again because of the availability of non-education related labor opportunities.

During the push of the 80's, 90's and today of "college for anyone who wants to attend" coupled with changes in K-12 education, what we may have is a cohort of women who are better prepared for college, more willing to enter college and who have chosen to get an education versus working in low-skill or unskilled labor until marriage and family.

There are a lot of factors contributing to the growing percentage of women on campus and I don't think any of it is cause for long term concern. In short, it will work itself out.

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