Female Undergraduates Continue to Outnumber Men, but Gap Holds Steady

January 26, 2010

The gender gap in undergraduate enrollment appears to have stopped widening for most groups, according to a report being released on Tuesday by the American Council on Education.

The percentage of undergraduates at community and four-year colleges who were male hovered between 42 percent and 44 percent from the 1995-1996 academic year to 2007-2008, the last year for which data was available, says the report, "Gender Equity in Higher Education: 2010." Among undergraduates who were black or age 25 and older, even smaller proportions were male, but the ratio of women to men in those groups was relatively stable over that same time frame.

Enrollment gaps, though, continued to widen between Hispanic men and women. The percentage of Hispanic students, age 24 or younger, enrolled in undergraduate programs who were male fell from 45 percent in 1999 to 42 percent in 2007.

The report says that low educational achievement among Hispanic people living in the United States who were born in another country, the majority of whom are men, is a probable cause for the enrollment disparity. Fewer than half of foreign-born Hispanic men who live in the United States complete high school.

Jacqueline E. King, assistant vice president for policy analysis at the council and author of the report, said that while gender gaps appeared to have normalized, the recession could bring changes. For some groups, the economic downturn may serve to narrow the gap between the proportion of women and men enrolled in college.

"There has been some anecdotal evidence coming in from community colleges saying that since the recession, they've seen enrollment of non-traditional-aged men expanding pretty rapidly," she said. "They've been laid off or they're worried about being laid off, so the job market is pushing them to upgrade."

The report is available for purchase on the group's Web site.