Is it the men that now need a boost?
For centuries, only men were able to access higher education. But today, especially in the United States, there is a phenomenon that is getting more and more attention: declining men enrollment at colleges and universities; according to the New York times, in the country there are almost three women for every two men in college and in 2023 women outnumbered men in the first-year classes of all the Ivy League schools.
There are numerous theories regarding why this may be the case: young girls mature faster in the ways that are rewarded in academic settings; more societal attention to gender inequality has led to the advancement of women in the past few decades; a resultant shift away from addressing the hopelessness and stagnation that some men feel has exacerbated these issues.
The gender gap begins early: girls already outperform boys in reading and writing tests at elementary school and in high school they made up the two-thirds of the top 10 percent of their class. Even if the findings in neuroscientific research are inconsistent, this advantage is often explained by differences in brain development. Young men’s decisions about enrollment at university is also affected by economic considerations: they tend to earn higher wages without college degree than females and therefore face a greater opportunity cost of paying tuition.
“These guys are genuinely lost” says Richard Reeves, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who recently founded a think tank, the American Institute for Boys and Men, to focus attention on the issue.
Many schools are developing solutions to close this gender gap -non only for students’ benefits, but also for their own. In fact, there is this common fear among admission officers that if gender ratio becomes too extreme, students of both genders will lose their interest in attending.
“Whether it’s fair or not, colleges with gender parity or close to gender parity have been viewed as the most desirable” says Sara Harberson, a former dean of admissions and financial aid at Franklin & Marshall and the founder of Application Nation, an online college-counseling community.
Schools are trying to attract males by improving sport programs, designing specific marketing materials that target men, offering incentives such as baseball caps or free stickers that do not give to girls. But the most effective way to achieve the desired gender ratio lies in the selection process: the tendency of enrollment officers to informally privilege male applicants is considered by critics as affirmative action for me.
Even now that the Supreme Court has struck down race-based affirmative action, colleges maintain their efforts to exercise some control over their gender ratios: The Supreme Court gives parties more freedom and flexibility to discriminate on the basis of gender than it does on race.
Michael Roth, Wesleyan’s president, suggested that equal numbers of men and women are important for a better learning environment — one that prepares students for the professional world. While recognizing that women still haven’t reached parity at the highest levels, Reeves declares that ensuring a strong male presence on campuses provide benefits that extend beyond the diversity of the learning environment. “You don’t want to feel like there’s something incompatible between masculinity and educational excellence,” says Reeves, who worries that if college starts to be understood as a feminine pursuit, that notion would be hard to change.