https://www.chronicle.com/article/Most-Colleges-Have-More-Women/246777Most Colleges Have More Women Than Men. Here’s How to Buck That Trend.
When Billy C. Hawkins
became president of Talladega College
in January 2008, enrollment was just under 300
students after years of decline. To make matters worse, the historically black institution’s accreditation was in jeopardy, and the college was on the brink of bankruptcy. Hawkins knew exactly what his turnaround plan for the liberal-arts college had to include.
"I came in knowing we had to grow enrollment," Hawkins said.
Year after year since then, the students that Talladega so desperately needed showed up. And in 2018-19, the Alabama college’s enrollment reached 1,217
— a 56-percent
increase from a year earlier. It was also the largest
student body in Talladega’s 152-year history.
Even more notable is what fueled Talladega’s growth streak: male students. In fact, men’s enrollment at Talladega increased 22 percent from 2007 to 2017. And now men make up just over half of the students on campus.
Aside from the all-male Morehouse College
, only 12
of the 83
HBCUs analyzed by The Chronicle — including Talladega — had male enrollment of at least 50 percent
in 2017, with the largest share being 68 percent
for Arkansas Baptist College
. The data are part of a larger set we examined from the U.S. Department of Education."They’re out there," said Hawkins, of male college students. "You just have to identify where they are."
The gender balance of Talladega’s student body runs counter not just to HBCU enrollments but to those in higher education broadly. Men used to be enrolled in college at much higher proportions than women; in 1970, the ratio was roughly 60 percent to 40 percent. But by the time the decade ended, an enrollment shift was underway as more women decided to pursue careers and headed to college to earn the degrees they needed.
Now men are the minority on campus.
This fall women are projected to make up 57 percent of college students.. And Department of Education data show they’re expected to outnumber men at colleges for the near-term future.
The disparity is widely known in higher- education circles and is a particular source of concern at some co-ed institutions where women make up the majority of the student body. When men in the classroom are few, one drawback for students — and not just the female ones — is the narrower range of perspectives represented. All sorts of male perspectives aren’t there for other men to see, said Marcus Weaver-Hightower, a professor of educational foundations and research at the University of North Dakota.
"I think there is reason to be somewhat concerned about male enrollment, not because males are oppressed, but because men are not taking advantage of these opportunities, and that’s a problem for them and for others," he said.
Colleges with certain specialties — including military academies, engineering and technology schools, and faith-related institutions — often enroll a majority share of male students. But other colleges that have bucked the missing-male trend have used a range of strategies to do so.
At Talladega, Hawkins pointed to the reinstatement of the institution’s athletics program as a key tool that helped "jump start" enrollment, particularly of males. After 10 years with no sports, the college reinstated its athletics program with men’s and women’s basketball, along with baseball, in 2008 — a move that helped push enrollment to just over 600 by the fall of the same year.
Today, the Talladega Tornadoes participate in 11 men’s and women’s sports, although football is not one of them. However, that didn’t stop Talladega from starting a marching band. At black colleges, marching bands are known for their showmanship during halftime performances at football games. Talladega’s band, instead, performs in competitions and at events like Mardi Gras, and it gained widespread attention — and no small amount of criticism — for deciding to march in the parade for President Trump’s inauguration. From its inception in 2012, the band’s members have been predominantly male. "A lot of people didn’t think that was a bright idea to start a marching band at an HBCU with no football team," Hawkins said of the band, which now has 352 members
. "But I said: We have a music major here and a music department here. We’re going to create a show band."
New academic programs have also contributed to Talladega’s male enrollment. Forty-two percent
of the students at Talladega who are majoring in criminal justice, a program created about four years ago, are men. Nationally, 51 percent of criminal-justice and corrections majors are male
. The college’s first master’s program, an online degree in computer information science
, is another discipline in which men are heavily enrolled. (Nationally, 83 percent
of bachelor's degrees in computer science are earned by men.)
The kind of attention that Talladega has given to activities and academic programs typically dominated by men illustrates the critical role that both can play in attracting male students. At Santa Clara University, the undergraduate student body is evenly split between men and women, but Eva Blanco Masias, dean of undergraduate admissions, said the university’s business and engineering schools "by nature, skew male heavy." That factor — combined with the college’s location in Silicon Valley and its highly desirable internships and co-op opportunities — contributes to a balanced male-female ratio on campus, Masias said.
The university also makes sure to include male students among the ambassadors who speak with prospective students, and it produces videos and other marketing materials that reflect Santa Clara’s gender balance.
"We do realize, and are keenly aware, of how challenging it is for other institutions to do this," Masias said of the gender balance of Santa Clara’s student body.
Part of the challenge stems from outside forces that keep men from applying to college in the first place, said Weaver-Hightower, whose research focuses on boys in kindergarten through high school. "There’s a pipeline problem," he said. "Boys aren’t doing as well during their K-12 years as the girls are, and they don’t graduate from high school. Sometimes they don’t have the requisite skills to go on to college, especially in reading and writing."
Meanwhile, the options available to men after high school can equal stiff competition for colleges. For some men, joining the military or the work force wins out over earning a degree. "There is lots of work in the trades that is still dominated by men that doesn’t require college," Weaver-Hightower said.
Another curtailer of male college enrollment: the number of 18- to 24-year-olds in prison
. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, more than 137,000 men between the ages of 18 and 24 were incarcerated in 2017 For women in the same age range, the number in prison that year was a mere fraction of that, at a little over 9,000. "The school-to-prison pipeline is a very real thing," Weaver-Hightower said.
And so is the fear of debt. Experts say it’s yet another factor that can keep men away from college.
"Male students, more than female students, tend to be more concerned about borrowing money and how they’re going to pay it back after college," Hawkins said. "And male students will tend to question the value of a college education."
Yet the conversation about low male enrollment is masking another trend that isn’t so grim. Although women outnumber men on most college campuses, the number of men enrolled in college has grown — just not at a fast enough pace to close the gender gap. What colleges could focus on more, Weaver-Hightower said, is what they’re doing once men arrive on campus. "As we look at freshman-to-sophomore retention, it’s lower for males," he said. "It’s not just a recruiting issue."To that end, some colleges have created programs designed specifically to retain men, especially African-Americans and Latinos.
North Carolina Central and Texas State Universities, and the University of Akron, Berea College, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham are among them. The initiatives typically include some mix of mentoring, academic advising, professional development, study-skills training and opportunities for students to bond with their male peers from similar backgrounds.
Such programs are designed to help students feel connected to their institutions, making them more likely to stay in college. That connection, especially in the first year, is key to retention, said Alan Seidman, executive director of the Center for the Study of College Student Retention.
One way to build those connections is for colleges to encourage faculty and student interaction outside the classroom setting. Seidman suggests that colleges give the faculty credit for their involvement with students as part of the promotion or evaluation process. Something as simple as a professor continuing a discussion outside of class, he said, can contribute to the sense of community a student needs to feel less isolated.
Still, Seidman said, a key indicator of whether students will graduate is their academic readiness for college
. The rigor of their high-school curriculum matters, and fewer men than women excel in college-prep courses, or even take them at all. At the core of retention efforts, he said, should be two things: First
, colleges should determine what level of reading, writing, math, and critical-thinking skills students need to bring to foundational courses — the ones that lead students to drop out when they fail. Second
, students should be assessed to see whether their skills match what’s needed for those courses, rather than be placed in one-size-fits-all remediation.
"Once you discover what skills they’re missing," Seidman said, "you can give them the skills they actually need."