The reality is that more men are attending college than ever before. According to the
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The reality is that more men are attending college than ever before. According to the Pew Research Center, 36 percent of American men ages 25 to 34 had a bachelor’s degree in 2021. That number has risen from just 20 percent in 1970. Over the same 51-year span, the percentage of women ages 25 to 34 with a bachelor’s degree has risen from 12 percent to 46 percent. Today, the average student body is a 60-40 split in favor of women. The growing gap between men and women is not because men are enrolling less but because women are enrolling more.
The growing gap between men and women is not because men are enrolling less but because women are enrolling more.
That’s not a crisis. A crisis is closer to what’s happening to women in the work force. In 2020, women earned 84 percent of what men earned. That figure has barely budged in the last 15 years. The gap is even more appalling when we disaggregate for race and ethnicity. When compounded over years, a recent Social Security Administration report shows, the lifetime earnings gap for a man with a bachelor’s degree is 43-percent more than for a woman with a bachelor’s degree. That gap is almost double for those without a high-school degree.
While there are higher-paying jobs in the energy sector, construction, and agriculture that do not require a college credential, they also do not employ many women. These longstanding economic structures push women to earn a college credential just to have a chance at making a livable wage. It is no wonder women are enrolling in college at higher rates, working harder at obtaining a degree, and graduating more quickly. It simply means more to and for them.
Meanwhile, at the top of the economic food chain, we still have a need for articles like “The Top Jobs Where Women Are Outnumbered by Men Named John.” In 2021, women held a scant 41 of chief-executive positions at Fortune 500 companies — a record as reported by Fortune. Even in academe, women constitute less than one-third of presidential posts. And I hardly need to mention that the United States has never had a woman president.
Even at my woman-focused university, with 90-percent female enrollment, the student body elected a male for president of the student-government association twice during my eight-year tenure. To me, this situation highlights the degree to which women in general are indeed socialized to see men as leaders. Changing that mental model takes intentional, ongoing effort.
When women make up most of the student body, there is no alternative but for those female students to step up and lead in student government, in club sports, and even in just answering questions in the classroom. It is in these settings that we teach women bravery. Frankly, women’s colleges are excellent at developing strong women leaders. And yet, of the 230 women’s colleges in existence in 1960, 80 percent have closed. How’s that for a crisis?
I acknowledge that men’s college completion rates trail those of women. Racial and ethnic achievement gaps persist and were even exacerbated by the pandemic in some cases. These are complex issues tied to economic conditions and unjust social structures.
But so is — and has been — the story for women who only recently caught up to men in college-going numbers — and who have a long way to go in the work-force and leadership positions. Much like Ginger Rogers, today’s women are doing everything the men are doing but “backward and in heels,” to which I would add: “and for less pay.”
In Texas, we like to say that in order to succeed, you have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get to work. It seems as though women are doing just that, and yet, some characterize women’s enrollment outpacing men’s as a crisis. Maybe we should fan the flames of some real crises, like pay equity or the closure of women’s colleges. Relatively speaking, the boys are doing just fine.