Where have the young men gone?
Tom Mortenson, Pell Fellow and publisher of Higher Opportunity Education in Washington D.C. ran the numbers way back in the 80’s and 90’s, and warned us. “Fewer boys are applying to college, and drop out at higher rates than girls. We need to examine what doesn’t work for them in higher education and reverse the trend.” But it fell on deaf ears. I don’t hear this conversation anymore at higher education conferences, and the ratio is still 60:40 female at the majority of liberal arts colleges.
The decline in enrollment of males in college started in the sixties, while at the same time, women’s enrollment was rising. When I went to college in the seventies, there were slightly more boys than girls on campus, and not just in the faculties of science, math and engineering. That trend reversed in the 80’s, when more women than men enrolled. Mortenson’s chart accompanying this article, with data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows this trend.
We’re familiar with the G. I. Bill that offered WWII returning veterans education benefits along with lower mortgage rates. From 1944 onward the bill helped large numbers of men gain a college education, without debt, although blacks and poor whites did not enroll in any significant numbers. In fact, HCBUs were poorly funded compared to other institutions that served predominantly whites.
Today’s jobs require more than high school graduation. It’s not hard to draw the connection between the lack of manufacturing jobs that could be performed with just some high school education and the growth of service jobs, which require much higher-level education and training.
What exactly is keeping the boys from attaining college degrees? Those who join the military can obtain training and funding for higher education. Others may find employment that may offer on-the-job training, such as automobile mechanics. Some males enter typically female professions such as teaching and health care. Those degrees and others can be obtained at nearby community colleges for affordable prices.
We need to encourage boys to keep trying, even when homework seems difficult at first, even if they don’t do “school” very well. We know that the fastest way to prison is to drop out of high school with no work skills. They should graduate from high school and then from college. It’s essential to find the right fit and position students with colleges that are more apt to invest in them.
Parents need to carefully consider their sons’ natural gifts, zones of excellence, and encourage them to express them, in their academic and extra-curricular activities, early on. By the time students are 15 years of age, their personal characteristics and learning style are noticeable and established. They are more successful when the major or career they choose matches up with who they are, what they like, and what they do well.
C. Claire Law, M.S. is a Certified Educational Planner on Daniel Island. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.