Gender Gap Is Far from Academic for Colleges

By Mark Clayton writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 22, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Gender Gap Is Far from Academic for Colleges

Mark Clayton writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor

For nearly 350 years, men outnumbered women on most of America's college campuses. But today some observers say undergraduate males are becoming an endangered species.

It's clear why Frank Nash, the admissions director at Bloomfield College in Bloomfield, N.J., might feel that way. Only about 30 percent of the college's 1,800 students are men.

Mr. Nash's mission is to narrow that gender gap. So at college fairs, Nash has started touting Bloomfield's beefed-up technology curriculum, athletic scholarships, and a new cross-country team. His media blitz features a pitch about friendly professors and a life-changing diploma - wedged between head-banging songs on a rock 'n' roll station.

"We're trying to get guys working at Home Depot to realize that, without a degree, they're stuck at the checkout counter," Nash says.

Bloomfield's guy gap is bigger than that at most schools. But such efforts to reach out and draw more men to campus are becoming increasingly common, underscoring an emerging trend: Gender parity is a new priority.

Little research exists about the impact of a gender balance on learning. Yet since the gender-segregated walls of the Ivy League came down in the 1960s, the idea has gained status as a key component of a diverse, intellectually vibrant campus. Beyond academics, it is an expected part of campus social life.

For much of the past three decades, the focus has been on bringing more women onto campus. But now, as the female majority grows at colleges across the United States, administrators are being forced to confront the gender equation on campus in a new way. Schools are scrutinizing how they assess applicants, as well as how much - if at all - they should tinker with campus demographics where women are fast-becoming a distinct majority.

Where have all the young men gone?

Debate over the gender gap's severity in recent years has targeted its size and scope.

According to the US Department of Education, the national proportion of male undergraduates (at more than 4,000 institutions) is 44 percent, with 7 million women and 5.5 million men on campus.

By the end of the decade, that figure may drop to 42 percent. Bachelor's degrees awarded to men have fallen to about 44 percent from 51 percent in 1980.

The Monitor analyzed admissions data from 1,006 coeducational, four-year colleges and universities. It reveals that the gender gap is pervasive across institutional types. (See chart below.)

At 83 percent of the schools, men on average represented 43 percent of the student body. But at a significant minority of institutions - nearly one-third - 40 percent or less of undergraduates were men. And at three-quarters of the overall group of schools, fewer than half of freshman applicants were men.

The gender gap is far worse at historically black colleges and universities and in other minority groups, experts say. Among African-Americans enrolled in college, 62 percent are women compared with just 37 percent men.

The impact of this shortfall varies greatly from campus to campus. It may be almost unnoticeable in large campus crowds, or immediately obvious in a history class.

Where it is more evident is around the edges, maybe changing the tenor of class discussions or making it easier for men than women to find a date.

Ask Jamie Kelly about being one of the 40 percent of male students at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Penn., and he laughs.

"It is not a big problem in class," says the senior English major. Still, he admits that dating on the campus can be "an odd situation," where it is "much harder to find an unattached guy than an unattached girl."

Like Bloomfield College, Dickinson is among the 31 percent of colleges that have 40 percent or less undergraduate men, as well as fewer male than female applicants.

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