The Washington-based American Council on Education (ACE) released figures today that while female undergraduates continue to outnumber men at community and four-year colleges, that gender gap has begun to level off. According to the report, "Gender Equity in Higher Education: 2010," the percentage of undergraduate men at community colleges and four-year institutions remained between 42 and 44 percent between the 1995-1996 and the 2007-2008 academic years.
Exceptions remain among Hispanic undergraduates, where the men continue to lag behind the women when it comes to enrolling in college. The percentage of male Hispanic students 24 or younger enrolled in undergraduate programs fell from 45 to 42 percent between 1999 and 2007. According to an article in Inside Higher Ed today, the reports suggests this can be explained by the large number of Hispanic males who are also immigrants, making it more difficult to get in and pay for college costs. Less than half of Hispanic male immigrants who live in the United States complete high school.
So why has the gender gap stabilized among all of the other student populations? Jacqueline E. King, the assistant vice president of ACE’s Center for Policy Analysis and the author of the study, said in Inside Higher Ed that this was the "new normal," and that the stabilization was a good thing. She also warned that the data that will account for the 2008-2009 could be different, however, as the recession may have caused some effects to college enrollments. (Only time will tell, but anecdotal evidence suggests more men have been enrolling in college in the difficult economy, perhaps as a response to lay-offs or to sharpen their skills in a tough job market.)
Prior to the report, some organizations had suggested more attention be paid to the low numbers of men enrolling in higher education, proposing types of affirmative action programs to get more men onto college campuses. Since then, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights began an inquiry to determine whether men were in fact getting preferential treatment. The ongoing gender bias investigation has targeted 19 schools across the country.
Sure, some women now boast that they're the breadwinners of their households, but disparities remain once you look beyond those undergraduate figures. While men are less likely to go to college than women, and even return to college later in life, men still lead in the number of PhD and MD degrees awarded and pull in larger salaries, perhaps because they dominate high-paying fields like engineering and computer science. Inside Higher Ed also suggests the most attention should be paid to minority applicants, as many of the men who struggle academically or choose not to enroll in college come from minority backgrounds.