The Trend is Clear
Everybody wants to know where all the men have gone. The Washington Post calls their disappearance the "question that has grown too conspicuous to ignore," and USA Today notes "universities fret about how to attract males as women increasingly dominate campuses."
Females now outnumber males by a four to three ratio in American colleges, a difference of almost two million students. Men earn only 43% of all college degrees. Among blacks, two women earn bachelor’s degrees for every man. Among Hispanics, only 40 percent of college graduates are male. Female high school graduates are 16% more likely to go to college than their male counterparts.
“This is new. We have thrown the gender switch," says Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and author of The War Against Boys: How Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men. "What does it mean in the long run that we have females who are significantly more literate, significantly more educated than their male counterparts? It is likely to create a lot of social problems. This does not bode well for anyone."
"As a nation, we simply can't afford to have half of our population not developing the skill sets that we are going to need to go into the future," says Susan L. Traiman, director of the Business Roundtable's education initiative.
Researchers from Harvard University, the University of Michigan and the United Negro College Fund have now agreed to study the issue.
"This is a powerful issue we need to stop talking about in generalities and really dig into," says Michael L. Lomax, president of Dillard University in New Orleans. "We just can't figure out how to get more male applicants, and we're not going to turn students down on the basis on gender," Lomax says. "I don't understand what is happening in the male community that is making education seem less attractive and less compelling."
The trend is unmistakable and some fear it is irreversible. Men made up the majority of college graduates when the first national survey was conducted in 1870. Except during World War II, when slightly more females enrolled than men, males were in the majority until men’s graduation rate began to decline in the late 1970s. By the early 1980s women began to represent the majority of graduates.
In total, the U.S. Department of Education estimates that 698,000 women received bachelor’s degrees in 2002, compared to 529,000 men.
Yet the loss in national productivity that this trend portends is not a concern to some. Jacqueline Woods, executive director of the American Association of University Women, denies that men's declining enrollments is a crisis or even a gender issue. She notes that those concerned about boys' sagging educational performance are "playing a zero-sum game" and says "I refuse to play." Columnist Ellen Goodman dismisses boy-friendly educational reformers as being motivated by the fact that "educated women have always made some people nervous." She, Woods and writer Barbara Ehrenreich argue that the college gender gap is another example of the disadvantages faced by women! According to Ehrenreich, “men…suspect they can make a living just as well without a college education, since they still have such an advantage over women in the non-professional workforce.”
Not only are the problems of college males being minimized in some quarters, but also much of the discussion of the lack of males in college surrounds the destructive impact it may have upon females. For example, an ABC.com report on the subject gloats "No More Big Man on Campus?” while declaring that the "College Gender Gap Could Mean Women Lose Mating Game" and asking "Must Women Go Slummin'?" Canadian journalist Lysiane Gagnon laments in the Globe and Mail that "the next generation of Quebec women might face a difficult love life...in a few years the province will be filled with high-paid, ambitious, professional women. Across the dance floor will be a large group of losers -- uneducated men stuck in small, low-paying jobs."
A Hidden Issue
Sophomore Adam Petkun and Senior Jesse Harding at the University of Oregon, who work at the Associated Students office, are typical of many male students on campuses across the country. They didn’t know that women outnumber men on their campus. They were both surprised, but not shocked by the information. Neither had any thoughts on why it was occurring or seemed concerned about the trend. Martin S. a junior at Portland State University after giving it some thought didn’t think the trend is ultimately a good thing. “I don’t know why this is going on. It seems like blue collar physical jobs that usually go to men are on the decline, so you’d think there would be more men attending college not less. I know some guys who have taken to going into high-tech and feel they don’t need a degree, but even in quite a few of those jobs a degree is obviously a help. It’s a mystery to me.“
It is also apparently a surprise and a mystery to most high school counselors.
“The few counselors I have talked with seem surprised by the trend,” said Richard Wong, executive director of the American School Counselor Association, the nation’s largest school counseling group. “I don’t think there has been a conscious effort to exclude white males, because historically they have been able to take care of themselves. A lot more attention has been paid to other groups, minorities and women, but perhaps the pendulum has swung too far.” Although the ASCA has conducted initiative programs for women and minorities, it does not plan any affirmative campaign to address the decline in male college attendance. “If it becomes a major issue the board will likely consider a response,” said Wong.
According to Mark Kuranz, a former president of the ASCA and currently a high-school counselor in Racine, Wisconsin, “Certainly college is very accessible for girls, and there is more competition with boys for the available spots. You would think however, there would a leveling off or the attendance and the graduation rate would be pretty level. Perhaps we have begun to expect less from boys.”
An Early Start to Giving Up on College?
Boys have fallen seriously behind girls at all K-12 levels. By high school the typical boy is a year and a half behind the typical girl in reading and writing. Girls get better grades than boys and boys are far more likely than girls to drop out of school or to be disciplined, suspended, held back, or expelled. Boys are four times as likely to receive a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder as girls, and the vast majority of learning-disabled students are boys.
The problem is a complex one, but a fundamental reason behind the phenomena is that modern K-12 education is not suited to boys' needs and learning styles. Success in school is tightly correlated with the ability to sit still, be quiet, and complete work that is presented in a dull, assembly line fashion. There is little outlet for natural boyish energy and exuberance in schools, and as a result many boys-even those as young as five or six-- end up being given Ritalin or other drugs so they can sit still. At every step of the way those whose natures are least accommodating to this type of education--boys--fall by the wayside.
Boys’ educational problems often begin as soon as they go to kindergarten. Michelle Ventimiglia, director of a Los Angeles pre-school, says:
"Our schools simply aren't made for boys. I see this every September when my students go into elementary school. My boys do great here, but when they go on to elementary school all of a sudden some of them become ‘behavior problems’ or ‘bad kids.’ How can a six year-old be ‘bad?’
"Children need physically connected activities, particularly boys. They learn best by doing. Too often teachers find it easier to simply give them worksheets instead. And now, with so much time being devoted to testing and preparing for testing, teachers' repertoires are even more limited, which is bad for children, particularly boys."
When boys are unable to fit into a school environment that clearly is not suited to them, they are often diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and given Ritalin or other drugs. Nearly nine million prescriptions of Ritalin are written for American children each year, most of them for boys between the ages of six and 12. According to Stanford University's Thomas Sowell, author of Inside American Education: The Decline, the Deception, the Dogmas, the drugging of boys is “part of a growing tendency to treat boyhood as a pathological condition that requires a new three R's repression, re education and Ritalin.” He notes: “The motto used to be: ‘Boys will be boys.’ Today, the motto seems to be: ‘Boys will be medicated.’"
Kuranz says these issues are beginning to be addressed in schools. “The conversation is beginning to be heard” regarding more active learning methods and the over-use of Ritalin.
Less For Men’s Sports
The decline of men’s college sports has also contributed to the disappearance of men on college campuses. Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 bars sex discrimination in any educational program or activity that receives federal funding. In the decades since, women's athletics have burgeoned in high schools and colleges. Title IX was and remains an important and laudable victory for the women's movement.
Some feminist groups, however, lobbied successfully to use an obscure bureaucratic action known as the 1979 Policy Interpretation to mandate that the number of athletes in college athletic programs reflect within a few percentage points the proportion of male and female students on campus. The problem is, as studies have shown, fewer women than men are interested in playing organized sports, even though the opportunity is available. Even in all-female colleges the number of women athletes fall considerably below that needed to satisfy Title IX requirements in coed colleges.
In addition, the current Title IX equity calculations are misleading because they count college football's athletes and dollars without considering football's moneymaking ability. In fact, over 70% of Division I-A football programs turn a profit.
Thus schools are caught in a vise. Because schools need football's revenue yet must also equalize gender numbers, they are forced to cut men's non-revenue sports.
Todd R. Dickey, University of Southern California’s general counsel, and many others argue that football should simply be taken out of the gender equity equation because no other sport earns as much revenue, has such a large number of athletes or staff, and needs as much equipment. "You can't spend as much on women's sports as you can on men's, because there is no women's equivalent for football," Dickey says.
Thus women have gained a little but men have lost a lot. According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), for every new women’s athletics slot created between 1992 and 1997, 3.6 male athletes were dropped. During the same period, colleges added 5,800 female athletes--and cut 20,000 male athletes. More than 400 men's collegiate athletic teams have been eliminated nationwide since the advent of Title IX. Kimberly Schuld, director of the Independent Women's Forum's Title IX Play Fair! Project, calls this "clear, government-sanctioned sex discrimination."
The current situation in men’s sports in college has prompted some recent reconsideration, but no clear direction. The Commission on Opportunity in Athletics’ is looking at recommendations to Secretary of Education Rod Paige. In testimony before the commission, Deborah Zelechowski, a senior vice president at Robert Morris College in Chicago, said that she has a male student population of just 36%. ''We need more males,'' she said, ''yet we cannot offer more male athletic teams…the letter of the law of Title IX is interfering with the spirit of the law.''
An anti-male campus?
Nearly every large college campus and many smaller ones have a Women’s Studies department. There are over five hundred women’s studies departments and over one hundred colleges that offer a degree program in women’s studies. There is not a single degree program or department in men’s studies in the U.S. It is difficult to get exact numbers, but it appears that there are fewer than a dozen classes labeled men’s studies being offered in colleges anywhere. Some that are labeled men’s studies are in fact anti-male. Kenyon College, for example, has a Men’s Studies program that in the words of one professor is in opposition to, “The white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, Christian, middle-class norm.”
Some academicians contend that the ascendancy of women’s studies on campus was a mistake. They argue that such issues do not properly belong in a narrowly defined ‘feminist’ approach to learning, but in already established fields of study such as sociology and history. In any case, there certainly has been little demonstrated movement among college administrators to offer men’s studies departments or courses, and men’s resource centers. Bret Burkholder a professor at Pierce Community College in Puyallup, Washington has set up a resource center on his campus. He says such efforts can help, “We must learn and establish alternative ways of instruction and student services support that are more in step with the predominate ways that men learn and communicate. We have to respect men, their ways of learning and expression if we are to earn their respect and trust. No one stays where they aren't wanted or valued.”
The claim that an anti-male agenda exists in our universities is difficult to understand unless one is immersed in today’s college culture.
Denesh D’Souza in his book, Illiberal Education, the Politics of Race and Sex on Campus argues that a system has emerged which has encouraged separatism: “By the time these students graduate, very few colleges have met their need for all-round development. Instead, by precept and example, the ideal of an educated person is largely a figment of bourgeois white male ideology, which should be cast aside.” He charges that the American students are getting is not a liberal education but, “its diametrical opposite, an education in closed-mindedness and intolerance.”
D’Souza and others point to Women’s Studies departments as a prime mover in this change. Thomas Sort, a professor of philosophy at Kenyon College, says, “Ideological dogmatism is the norm not the exception in Women’s Studies. They practice the very exclusion that they claim to have suffered in the past.” It is not that men are not welcome just in Women’s Studies programs. The programs may have fostered an environment in which the very presence of males on campus is a threat to a worldview that sees things only in terms of oppressors and the oppressed.
Deliberate misinformation about men and gender issues are an integral part of modern campus culture. Women's centers and women's studies departments publicize and promote discredited academic frauds like "one in four college women has been the victim of rape or attempted rape" and "domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women aged 15 to 44." Sommers, who debunked many academic feminist claims in Who Stole Feminism?, calls these "Hate Statistics." The statistics help to set up a campus mindset where it makes sense to be anti-male. If, for example, one believes the oft-stated feminist claim that on an average campus a woman is raped every 21 hours, who wouldn't be? (In reality, there is an average of less than one reported rape per three American college campuses per year).
Women's studies textbooks provide a view of the hostility towards men in our universities. According to an extensive study of women's studies textbooks released in 2002 by the IWF, a dissident women’s group, the textbooks "ignore facts in favor of myths," "mistake ideology for scholarship," and encourage students to "embrace aggrievement, not knowledge." The study, “Lying in a Room of One's Own: How Women's Studies Textbooks Miseducate Students,” examined the five most popular Women Studies' textbooks in the United States and found relentless woman-as-victim/man-as-victimizer bias and hostility. According to the author, Christine Stolba, the textbooks construe or distort studies and statistics to infer that women are miserable and oppressed, and that men are privileged oppressors.
Among the "truths" the textbooks tell students are: Women are under siege from virtually all sectors of society; little has changed for women in the past three decades; believing that women have achieved equality is "modern sexism"; and most women are not naturally sexually attracted to men but are the victims of "compulsory heterosexuality" maintained through male "social control." Bad fathers are described as the rule rather than the exception, the prevalence of sexual abuse and molestation is wildly exaggerated, and students are told that in families fathers often represent a "foreign male element" that mothers and daughters must unite against.
UCLA is one of the few universities in which a debate on the anti-male bias on campus has actually been allowed to take place, and this was only because of a full-page ad in the campus newspaper. The IWF ran a full-page advertisement in UCLA's student newspaper, the Daily Bruin, which asked "Are you tired of male-bashing and victimology?" The ad debunked what it called the "Ten Most Common Feminist Myths," including "30 percent of emergency room visits by women each year are the result of injuries from domestic violence," "women have been shortchanged in medical research," "one in four women in college has been the victim of rape or attempted rape," and others. Feminists, led by Tina Oakland, director of the UCLA Center for Women and Men, and Christie Scott, executive co-chair of the UCLA Clothesline Project, launched campus demonstrations against what Scott called "a violent ad, a very hostile ad" which "breeds a very bad attitude toward campus women." Oakland said that challenging one in four is like denying the Holocaust. A feminist professor wrote to the Daily Bruin claiming that the IWF ad served to "ferment intolerant, anti-woman...sentiment and action on campus" and "incite hate." While the Daily Bruin refused to apologize for the ad, its viewpoint editor was cowed, and expressed regret that the paper had "let something so anti-woman through." Oakland, after being castigated by some in conservative magazines, backed off of her defense of the "1 in 4" figure rape figure, explaining that "the statistics don't really matter that much in the big picture."
Can Balance be Achieved?
A serious national effort is needed to redress the gender imbalance in our universities and the biggest solution to the absence of boys from our college campuses will be boy-friendly reforms at the K-12 level. Sommers notes that one of the greatest challenges reformers face is the fact that our society is largely unaware of or refuses to recognize the boy crisis in our schools. She contrasts this with England, which embarked upon boy-friendly educational reforms in the early 90s and has met with some success.
Part of this national effort will be a retooling of our schools to create boy-friendly classrooms and teaching strategies. Boys in particular need strong, charismatic teachers who mix firm discipline with a good-natured acceptance of boyish energy. Concomitantly, a sharp increase in the number of male teachers is also needed, particularly at the elementary level, where female teachers outnumber male teachers six to one. Same-sex classes can also be helpful, and schools should have the power to employ them when appropriate.
Beyond reforms at the K-12 level, it is apparent that college campuses need to be places where males feel as welcome as females. Women's Studies needs to be either abolished, converted to Gender Studies and its texts and studies put under strict peer review, or departments of equal stature and funding need to be created that are devoted to Men’s Studies. It only seems fair and balanced. At the very least, many Women's Studies textbooks need to be replaced by texts which consider both male and female points of view on gender issues and which cite only academically credible research. Title IX needs to be brought back to its original intent, and viable men's athletic programs need to be restored.
The decline in male attendance and college achievement does not appear to be a statistical aberration, or one that will correct itself without attention being paid to the issue. Certainly society is not better off if a significant number of our best and brightest young men fail to seek or earn a college education. We need to take the first step by acknowledging that the decline of males on campus is a significant social and economic problem. This realization need not detract from the mission to provide equal educational opportunities for women. It may lead to recognizing that at least some real discriminatory lack of accommodation for males in education campus exists, and that reforms and different approaches are needed. If these steps are not taken, it seems clear that the decline of males on campus will continue at its present rapid rate.
This column first appeared in the book published by The Disinformation Company (May, 2003). Philip W. Cook is the author of Abused Men-The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence (Greenwood/Praeger), and is the Vice President of Stop Abuse For Everyone. Glenn Sacks is a men's and fathers' issues columnist and radio talk show host. His columns have appeared in dozens of America's largest newspapers. His radio show, , can be heard every Sunday on KRLA 870 AM in Los Angeles. Glenn can be reached via his website, at www.GlennSacks.com or by e-mail at .