Manny Cristosomos from Detroit Free Press followed in the schoolyear 1987/88 the everyday life of college students at a „typical, average“ school. He got the Pulitzer Prize for about 100 pictures he made in this time. Since then, the number of male college and university students has decreased dramatically.
As men slip to 44 percent of undergrads, some colleges actively recruit them. When Meg Delong was in high school in the northern Georgia town of Gainesville, she was a serious student with her eye on college. Many of her girlfriends worked toward the same goal. But her younger brother and most of her male friends seemed more inclined to act like Falstaff than to study Shakespeare. „A lot of guys thought studying was for girls,“ says DeLong, now a junior French major at the University of Georgia in Athens. „They were really intelligent, but they would goof off, and it seemed to be accepted by the teachers.“ Take DeLong‘s experience, multiply it a few thousand times in schools across the state, and it isn‘t surprising that at her campus this year, the freshman class is nearly 61% female. This sort of gender gap is glaring and growing at campuses across America. Until 1979, men made up the majority of college students. As women won increasing equality elsewhere in society, it was natural and expected that they would reach parity in college, which they did by the early 1980s. But the surprise has been that men‘s enrollment in higher education has declined since 1992. Males now make up just 44% of undergraduate students nationwide. And federal projections show their share shrinking to as little as 42% by 2010. This trend is among the hottest topics of debate among college-admissions officers. And some private liberal arts colleges have quietly begun special efforts to recruit men including admissions preferences for them. Why the shortage? There are few hard facts, but lots of theories. Anecdotal evidence suggests that more men than women respond to the lure of high-tech jobs that don‘t require a bachelor‘s degree. Some call this „the Bill Gates syndrome“, after the college-dropout chairman of Microsoft. Some social critics blame a dearth of male role models among schoolteachers, and a culture that promotes anti-intellectualism among boys. And, especially in inner cities, crime and gangs entice more boys than girls away from learning. Not all schools are feeling the imbalance; many élite colleges and universities have seen applications soar from both sexes. But the overall numbers should make us „wake up and see that boys are in trouble.“ U.S. Census measures indicate that the gap cuts across racial and income groups. Moreover, boys as a group trail girls at many stages of the basic and secondary education: boys tend to earn lower grades and are less likely to earn a high school diploma.
Although the latest figures show that college graduates earn, on average, almost double the wages of those with no college, „there‘s a sense among many boys that it‘s sissy to go to college,“ says sociologist and author Michael Kimmel. „The thinking is, ‘I can get a job without it.‘“ Last July the University of Georgia lost a lawsuit filed by female students who were denied admission because of an affirmative-action policy that favored men. How then to recruit more guys? At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, recruiters aggressively tout math and science programs traditionally popular among male applicants. Chicago‘s DePaul University (59% female) sends out extra mailings to boys. Public universities, though, could face legal challenges if they were to try recruiting more males. And yet, some educators skirt the recruiting rules. Michael Kimmel believes that once we begin to change the anti-intellectual current in our culture, market forces will help address the gender gap. And surely more men will also be lured onto campuses by the realization that they‘ll be surrounded by smart, attractive women with great earnings prospects.