Decline in male students redefines gender gap

by Benjamin Sandell

The number of women in higher education has been rising over the past 20 years and has been looked upon as a positive trend. But the trend of decreasing men’s college enrollment during the same time period has often been overlooked.
And the University is no exception.
Men made up more than 51.6 percent of the University’s total student population in 1989, but in the nine years following, the number dropped to 48.6 percent, according to the University’s Office of the Registrar.
Even so, the University doesn’t seem far off when compared to the national average.
The national percentage of male undergraduates is now less than 45 percent — a drop from 55 percent in 1970, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
The number of women receiving bachelor’s degrees nationally exceeded that of men in 1982. In fact, Utah is the only state in which men’s enrollment is greater than women’s.
According to the Minnesota Higher Education Services Office, in fall 1998 the percentage of females enrolled in colleges across the state was 11 percent higher than males.
Causes for the decline in male enrollment are unknown. Experts and researchers can only provide theories about the trend.
“It is really difficult to determine the cause and effect,” said University admissions director Wayne Sigler. “My guess on a possible reason is that the strong economy may have led more men to seek immediate employment directly out of high school.”
Sigler added that it is encouraging to find women making progress and achieving opportunities, but the decreasing numbers of men enrolling in higher education is something to keep an eye on because “it is not good if any population is being left behind.”
According to the Post-Secondary Education Opportunity, there may be a number of factors contributing to the decline.
When compared to women, men are less likely to graduate high school, have a smaller chance of applying for continuing education and have a higher college dropout rate.
Some researchers think women need to go to college to make a living, whereas higher education for men is not as important to get a well-paying job.
“Some of the reasons are that without education and skills, women have less likelihood of earning better wages than males,” said Alexandra Djurovich of HESO’s research and program services. “More households are headed by women. They need a better education and decent wages to provide for their children.”
In 1999, 7,276 first-time male students applied to the University, compared with 8,043 first-time female students, according to the Office of Institutional Research and Reporting.
In addition, the average acceptance rate for first-time male freshmen, between the years of 1997 and 1999, was 4.6 percent lower than first-time females students.
This might be attributed to high school, where women are one-third more likely to get an “A” average than men, and one-third more likely to take college preparatory classes, according to the Chronicle. These numbers have led many analysts to believe the problem starts in the K-12 system.
According to the University’s Web site, there is still a larger number of men than women enrolled in engineering, math, computer science and management programs. However, the number of men is lower than the number of women in education, human development, behavioral science, human ecology and liberal arts studies.
Jesse Moen, of HESO’s research and programs services, said when graduating from high school, the opportunities for full-time employment may be more lucrative for men than for women.
He also predicted both male and female enrollment will increase in the next few years as a result of the large number of recent high school graduates.

Benjamin Sandell welcomes comments at [email protected]