The Future (of Higher Ed) is Female

David Acevedo

CounterCurrent: Week of 9/26

“The number of men enrolled at two- and four-year colleges has fallen behind women by record levels, in a widening education gap across the U.S.”

Thus begins a bombshell report published by the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, which examines the increasing dominance of females within American college and university enrollment. In the piece, Douglas Belkin analyzes higher ed’s gender disparities both quantitatively and qualitatively, comparing rates of enrollment by sex, family income, and race, as well as interviewing young men about their experience within and without college. One gentleman bluntly admitted, “I just feel lost.”

While some of academia’s more radical feminists might welcome this news with open arms, most readers have met the story with some degree of concern. Just see the nearly 2,500 comments the article has accrued since publication. The responses vary widely:

Having taught at the college level since the 80s, I have come to believe that the women are more motivated and interested in doing the actual academic work rather than 'working some angle' to make grades.

Schools in general, not just universities, have become toxic places for our young men. School has become structured and ordered so as to reward typically female behaviors and to punish typically male behaviors.

I do not see this as a problem - no one is closing the doors to those men … They simply decided college was not right for them at the moment. It's fine by me.

Here we see the three main takes on the situation, which we may call “nature, nurture, and no problem.” The “nature” crowd believes that women are dominating higher ed enrollment simply because they are better prepared than their male counterparts to succeed. The solution here would be to help men and boys succeed from a young age, such that they are ready to excel in college when the time comes.

Those in the second category think that the problem is with higher ed itself, not with men. They argue that gender-specific programs, scholarships, and, indeed, the entire academic ecosystem itself have come to preference women at the expense of men. You might call this the “feminization of higher ed.” Most will agree that the integration of women into previously male-only colleges has been beneficial, but they argue that the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. After all, if college’s men (particularly straight, white men) are constantly told they are the singular source of the world’s problems, why would they stick around?

The third group—”no problem”—is self-explanatory. Women outnumber men in higher ed … because they do. End of story. These reports are just nothingburgers fishing for readers. Carry on, nothing to see here.

In this week’s featured article, the National Association of Scholars’ very own Neetu Arnold and Chance Layton give their take on the issue, which broadly fits into the “nurture” argument but which also provides positive solutions for lasting change. They write,

These days, men who attend college enter the lioness’s den. From orientation to graduation, they are likely to hear that masculinity is toxic and must be suppressed. ‘Smashing the patriarchy’ is all the rage. And if that weren’t enough, men are inundated with the ubiquitous refrain ‘the future is female.’

What can be done? Start young, but don’t stop there:

We could encourage boys to pursue careers catered to their interests that require a college education, such as a Men in STEM initiative in K-12 schools. … Such an initiative kills two birds with one stone — it bridges the STEM achievement gap among Americans and improves outcomes for American boys.

At the collegiate level, we should get rid of extremely anachronistic sex-based affirmative action policies. Women have outnumbered men at universities since the 1980s, yet higher education continues to give preferential treatment to women.

So, will the future of higher ed be female? If nothing changes, then probably. But if schools come to terms with the many ways in which they alienate young men, then they have the potential for reform. Here’s to an academy where all can flourish—men and women alike.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications & Research Associate David Acevedo. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Pixabay, Public Domain

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