The gender gap on campus — about 57% female, 43% male — is troubling, but it's not getting any worse, a report says today. Men have consistently represented about 43% of enrollments and earned 43% of bachelor's degrees since 2000, says the report by the American Council on Education, a higher-education organization.
It doesn't offer solutions on how to narrow that gap, but it suggests policymakers and educators can have the greatest effect by focusing efforts on Hispanics. Just 9% of Hispanic young men have earned a bachelor's degree, the lowest attainment level of any group studied. Among Hispanic young women, 14% have earned a bachelor's.
Given that Hispanics represent the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, "raising the attainment rate of Hispanic men — and women — looms as one of the most significant challenges facing American education," says report author Jacqueline King, assistant vice president of ACE's Center for Policy Analysis. The group has been slicing and dicing gender data since 2000.
Concern over lagging male academic achievement and its consequences has in recent years captured the attention of policy analysts, researchers, journalists and other groups such as the American Association of University Women.
In December, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said it would investigate whether, in an attempt to minimize lopsided gender mixes on their campuses, some colleges discriminate against women in admissions by admitting males at a higher rate or offering more generous aid packages.
Tuesday's report is based on the latest available data from the U.S. Census and Education Department. For now, King says, "while the gender gap is important and should be addressed by educators and policymakers, these findings suggest the current female majority may be higher education's new normal."
Some of the report's findings appear at odds with other research. Lorenzo Esters, who is heading an initiative called the American Male Imperative for the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, predicts that the gender split could widen to 59%-41% nationally in 2018, and raises concerns about a broader swath of minority students.
Noting President Obama's goal to increase college attainment, he says, "It is less likely that we will be able to do that if we don't take a significant look at black, Hispanic and other minority males."
Richard Whitmire, author of the just-published "Why Boys Fail", says evidence that the gap has stabilized "is good news." But, he says, the report "leaves the impression that except for minorities the gender gaps are no longer a cause for worry. ... Men need those degrees as much as women, and yet mostly women are getting that message."
King doesn't disagree. "We say throughout the report that this is a real problem, (but) it's a different kind of problem for different students and a different level of problem for different types of students."