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Men No Longer Majority of College Students, Graduates

Men No Longer Majority of College Students, Graduates
By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Women have gained ground in education over the last decade and now represent a majority of college students and college graduates, with many of the gains attributed to a growing number of older women pursuing degrees, according to a new analysis by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

A number of indicators show that women in higher education do as well as, or better than, their male peers in pursuing college, academic performance and degree completion. “Trends in Educational Equity of Girls & Women: 2004,” released last month, draws upon published and unpublished data from the NCES, as well as from other national and international sources. More than three-dozen indicators in all went into the analysis, which looked at surveys by NCES and data from elementary through graduate school. It is a follow-up to a similar report published by the NCES in 2000.

“The data presented in this publication demonstrate that in elementary and secondary school and in college, females are now doing as well as or better than males on many indicators of achievement and educational outcomes,” the report says. “And the large gaps that once existed between males and females have been eliminated in most cases and have significantly decreased in others.”

The improvements were evident at all levels of education. At the elementary and secondary levels, for example, girls have surpassed boys in reading and writing, and they have caught up in mathematics and science, as well as on other measures, such as access to computers and participation in extracurricular activities.

The findings, which back up other studies and anecdotal evidence over the last few years, seem to indicate a turning of the tables on equity and elicited counter concerns that the education of boys and men might deserve more attention.

“The issue now is that boys seem to be falling behind,” said outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education Roderick Paige last month. “We need to spend some time researching the problem so that we can give boys the support to succeed academically.”

The shift has come gradually over the last three decades, according to Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. But the recent realization that males are falling behind could have a political impact.

“I think women have overused the argument that they are disadvantaged,” he told the Associated Press. “They do have issues such as compensation for the work they do that remain to be resolved, and there are even education issues,” but there has been progress.

However, despite the stronghold females have gained in education, at the postsecondary level the findings aren’t as clear cut. “Nevertheless,” the report states, “gender differences in majors still exist.”

For example, women are still underrepresented in doctorate and professional programs and are less likely than men to major in science, engineering and computer science.

About 56 percent of undergraduates in the nation’s colleges and universities are women, according to the report. The data reflect the significant progress made by women in higher education since the early days of the women’s movement in the 1970s, when they represented just over 4 in 10 college students. Since that time the availability of community college programs designed to meet the needs of nontraditional students has expanded considerably, perhaps contributing to the increase in enrollments of older women.

“In part, this reflects an increase in the numbers of young women who enter college immediately after completing high school, but it also reflects a sizable number of older women enrolled in school,” the report says.

But changes in the workplace have not kept pace, according to Dr. Jacqueline King, the American Council on Education’s director of policy analysis.

“What we haven’t seen is that educational achievement translating into the same kind of workplace achievement and pay equity,” she said. “Women are closing gaps in terms of education, but that may not be translating in terms of the job market.”

Previous reports of the higher proportion of women in higher education have signaled alarm among some experts that there may be a general crisis in the enrollment of males in higher education. A study done by King for ACE several years ago — called “Gender Equity in Higher Education” — dismissed such claims, however, though it outlined concerns that Black, Hispanic and low-income men lagged behind women in their educational attainment.

The recent NCES study confirmed those concerns, indicating that about two-thirds of the degrees conferred on African American college students were earned by women. White women earned 57 percent of the degrees conferred on White students.

Women also have been well represented in adult basic education courses, many of which are provided at community colleges around the country. While females are more likely to participate in adult education programs, they have higher enrollments than men in personal development courses. They are about as equally represented as men, however, in basic-skills and work-related adult education, according to the report.

In collegiate sports, the gender gap has also closed through the years, according to the report. Over the last two decades the number of female athletes participating in Division I college sports grew by 150 percent, compared with an increase of 15 percent for male athletes.

The report is online at <>. 

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