FORT WAYNE, Ind. As a single man, Alex O’Shaughnessey doesn’t mind being outnumbered by women. At least not at school, he says.
“It’s not just that there are more women on campus this year,” O’Shaughnessey says. “There are significantly more women, I’ve noticed. But I’m a bachelor, so it doesn’t bother me.”
Between classes at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, O’Shaughnessey can usually be found sitting next to a couple of friends on an upholstered bench in the basement of Kettler Hall. On a recent Tuesday, the room around them was filled with women pairs of women trading class notes, single women sipping coffee and reading, women joining both male and female friends at tables near the bookstore.
“We’re outnumbered,” O’Shaughnessey said, narrowing his eyes. “This doesn’t mean women are smarter than men, right?”
While the number of both male and female students continues to rise, the increase in college students is being driven primarily by women, according to recent census numbers. In Indiana, for example, women made up 56 percent of college enrollment in 2006, up from 53 percent in 2000.
Nationally, nearly six out of 10 college students were women in 2006. And the same is true in Allen County. There were almost 50 percent more females than males enrolled in Allen County colleges in 2006. At IPFW specifically, there are 1,600 more women than men this fall.
Experts say the reasons range from changing societal norms to boys giving up on academics as early as middle school.
O’Shaughnessey, 20, is one of only two men in his Introduction to Criminalistics class at IPFW. The other 13 desks? They’re all taken up by women.
“It’s not normal to only have two boys in a criminal justice class,” says Karen Bruewer, who teaches the class. “When I saw the class list this year, I thought, ‘What? That’s weird.'”
It’s a situation IPFW student Sandy Geary, an education major, has noticed.
“I knew there wouldn’t be many men in my classes,” Geary says. “But I thought there’d be at least one. In two of my classes there are no men at all.”
Ivy Tech Community College is also female-dominated. During the fall 2006 semester, the college had 4,278 female students and 2,732 men. But the reasons for the imbalance are anybody’s guess, Ed Reed, executive director of marketing and communications, says.
“Anything I would come up with would be a wild guess,” he says. “Things have flipped. Initially, we offered a lot of traditionally male-oriented technical programs. Now, our health field programs are the biggest and fastest growing programs on our campus. And those programs appeal more to women.”
The increase in female students could be motivated, in part, to growth in occupational fields traditionally dominated by women. In Indiana, nursing and education are the two fastest growing professional fields, according to the Department of Workforce Development.
At IPFW, the nursing program contains 799 female students and only 92 male students. In the university’s elementary education program, women make up nearly 90 percent of the students. Enrollment shows 67 male elementary education majors and 535 female majors.
Factors such as changing societal norms, women’s superior high school academic performance and higher career expectations could be responsible for the increase, Frank Guzik, associate director of admissions at IPFW, says.
“It’s not just the numbers,” he says. “It’s the reason why. Most colleges and universities, ourselves included, have made efforts to make college admission more accessible to women. And we’ve been really successful at it.”
Like many universities, IPFW directly recruits women for male-dominated fields such as engineering. The university houses a women’s engineering society which helps recruit and retain female engineering students, Guzik says.
“During the ’70s, women went into education or nursing,” Guzik says. “We’ve tried to open up all fields to all genders and any race. And that has particularly helped women. But you don’t see that for men in nursing.”
The trend of fewer males in college is worrisome to Tom Mortenson, senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. Mortenson, a higher education policy analyst since 1970, has studied trends in gender distribution in higher education for the past 25 years.
With the United States and, specifically Indiana losing manufacturing and other traditionally male jobs, young men are “no longer guaranteed success the way their fathers and grandfathers were,” he says. According to Mortenson, traditionally held male jobs have been lost in the capitalization of agriculture and globalization of manufacturing.
“The tragedy becomes apparent to boys when it is almost too late to fix it,” he says. “The growing industrial sectors of the U.S. economy are all service industries that require substantial post-secondary education investments. The girls get it and boys don’t.”
Around adolescence, boys begin turning away from schooling, disengaging from the learning process, Mortenson says.
“I can see the issue and I know why it’s a problem for young men,” he says. “But how to fix the imbalance is a lot harder.”
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