Gender Gap in College Grows… But ACE Says No Reason to Worry

July 13, 2006

According to an Inside Higher Ed article yesterday, the gender gap between men and women in college continues to grow, with men getting the progressively shorter end of the stick. Here are some of the highlights, taken directly from the American Council on Education’s (ACE’s) press release about its report: 

  • Among whites, a clear female majority has emerged since 1995–96, with the male share of undergraduates dropping from 49 percent in 1995–96 to 46 percent in 2003–04.  This change is due to a decline in the share of low-income white students who are male, from 48 percent in 1995–96 to 44 percent in 2003–04.  
  • Among Hispanics, the percent of students age 24 or younger who are male fell from 45 percent to 43 percent, due primarily to a drop in the share of low-income students who are male. 
  • African-American males saw some progress with their share of enrollment rising from 37 percent in 1995-96 to 40 percent in 2003-04, but the gender gap is still largest in this racial group.
  • Asian-American men are now at parity with their female peers after having been in the majority in 1995–96.

ACE is very careful, though, to point out that this isn’t a problem. ACE’s PR goes on to quote Jacqueline E. King, the author of the study, who says, “[w]omen are making gains in college participation and degree attainment, but their gains have not come at the expense of men.”  That’s a relief, but are men really losing interest in going to college (compared to women) at such a rapid pace?
Realistically, there are probably dozens of factors that help to explain why men’s enrollment in college is dropping. My guess is that primary among them is that men are far more likely to go into trades like electrical, plumbing, and skilled manufacturing work that pay well and do not require a college diploma. For them, college might well be an unnecessary and increasingly unmanageable expense.
Still, though, it will be interesting to compare the reaction to this report to the reaction to ex-Harvard President Larry Summers’ comments last year about women in the sciences. The results of this study reflect a gender gap that represents an increasing number of thousands of men every year, while Summers’ comments reflect one man’s thinking out loud about gender inequality. We’ll soon see which one ends up causing more consternation.