Byline: MATT COLEMAN
In some of Michael Caira's classes at the University of North Florida, the gender gap is impossible to ignore. Women fill the vast majority of seats.
"There are one or two others guys in a class of 20 and if they don't show up, I'm the only one," the sophomore said. "I'm not complaining. It's just a little weird being so outnumbered."
Being a red-blooded male, Caira, a 20-year-old finance major, doesn't mind the fact that nearly six out of 10 UNF students are female.
That ratio is fine by him, even though, he says with a chuckle, "it makes it a little harder to focus in class."
At almost any other college across the nation, he'd be just as distracted.
As recently as 20 years ago, there were more men than women enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities. The gap has since reversed. In the past decade, women have dominated - claiming an estimated 57 percent of enrollments.
The gap is so wide and persistent that some colleges are resorting to counter-measures. They're openly giving male applicants an admissions boost to help balance the sexes on campus.
Is that practice an innocent effort to foster gender parity or illegal discrimination?
A federal investigation aims to find out. Since December, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has been examining whether public and private colleges are engaging in widespread discrimination against women in denying them admission.
In Northeast Florida, public schools appear to be rolling with the enrollment trend, while some private schools, including Jacksonville University, are openly giving male applicants a slight edge.
That's created a big complexion difference on campuses located only a few miles apart.
UNF sits right at the national average. Florida State College at Jacksonville, another public school, trumps that with a student body that is 61 percent female.
It's a different story at Jacksonville's two private colleges. JU has hovered close to a 50-50 split in recent years. Edward Waters College has had a majority of male students for the past five years, and this year's disparity is even more pronounced, with a 42 percent female student body.
'LOT MORE FEMALE CANDIDATES'
Terry Whittum, JU's vice president for enrollment management, said his school has maintained an even male-female student ratio without a full-blown movement to bolster male enrollment. But the school does hand-pick groups of potential students based on gender, he said.
Recruiters often purchase blocks of student-contact information from the ACT and College Board, and Whittum said the available names are about 60 percent female.
So the school occasionally requests more male names from different regions to offset the difference.
That's not discrimination, he said. The school accepts the best applicants available, regardless of gender. The student names purchased from the ACT and College Board are simply among the group who hears from the school first, he said.
"We've made an effort to maintain an even ratio in certain areas that have a lot more female candidates," he said. "There is a pretty big division in some areas, but it's not like we're going to let applicants slide by because of their gender."
ACT spokesman Ed Colby said many schools pick and choose which applicant pools to purchase.
With the gender gap showing no signs of narrowing, he said it's likely that more schools will select larger blocks of male applicants.
Other natural factors can contribute to a more even gender ratio. Whittum said the JU football team brings in about 40 to 50 new male students every year, and the team doesn't have a female counterpart to balance it out. …