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Report: College Enrollment Gender Gap Widens for White, Hispanic Students


The gap between White and Hispanic undergraduates has widened, according to a new gender equity study released Tuesday by the American Council on Education.

The report traces the increased gap to a rise in the percentage of low-income female students from both races attending colleges and universities. The number of “traditional” male students, 24 years old and younger, has dipped from 48 percent in 1995 to 45 percent in 2003.

The share of bachelor’s degrees earned by minority women has tripled over the past quarter century, from 5 percent in 1976 to 15 percent in 2003. While male minority students have also seen their graduation rates rise, they have not kept pace with the women. Although both were at 5 percent in 1976, minority male rates had only gone up to 9 percent by 2003.

“Women are making gains in college participation and degree attainment, but their gains have not come at the expense of men,” says Jacqueline E. King, director of ACE’s Center for Policy Analysis and author of the study. “The number of men enrolled in college has increased, but not fast enough to narrow what is now a 57 percent female majority in total enrollment.”

A clear female majority has emerged among White students since 1995. That year, males made up 49 percent of the White undergraduate population. Their representation had dropped to 46 percent by 2003.

Male Hispanic students have experienced a very similar trend, dropping from 45 percent to 43 percent of the Hispanic undergraduate population during the same time frame. In both cases, the report cites dwindling college participation by low-income males as the cause for the overall decline. Black men, on the other hand, have seen their percentages increase over the eight-year span, going from 37 percent in 1995 to 40 percent in 2003. However, Blacks still have the most pronounced gender gap of any racial group. Asian American men held the majority in 1995, but female students have since matched their numbers, says the report. Data for American Indian undergraduates are incomplete due to low sample size.

At the graduate level, men make up 42 percent of total enrollment and are still the majority in MBA, law, master’s of science programs and in noneducation-focused doctorate programs. Women now have a slight enrollment majority in medicine (51 percent) and other health science professional programs (53 percent).

The gender gap increases among nontraditional-age undergraduate students. Women maintain a 60 percent to 62 percent majority among students 25 years old and older, the report found.

“The gender gap is important and should be addressed by educators and policy makers, but it should not obscure the larger disparities that exist by income and race/ethnicity for students of both genders,” says King. “Likewise, the fact that the rate of degree attainment has risen over time for both women and men should remind everyone concerned about male achievement that education is not a zero-sum gain in which a woman’s success results in losses for men.”

— By Shilpa Banerji

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