The estimable National Student Clearinghouse recently released data on spring 2021 enrollments. The press accounts stressed continuing decline; total numbers were down 3.5% from spring 2020 to spring 2021. By exploring the NSC website in greater detail, I learned that since spring 2011, total enrollment has fallen over 14 percent. In 2011, there were about 63 college students for every 1,000 American population; now there are less than 51, a decline of nearly 20 percent. As colleges shrink in immediate importance in peoples lives, support for colleges wanes.
Yet the aggregate numbers disguise a striking additional trend: the decline in male enrollment is dramatically greater than that for women. In the 2020-21 year, for example, the number of women enrolled declined by nearly 203,000, but the male decline was nearly double that, over 400,000. In the 2011-21 decade, spring enrollment for men fell strikingly more than 18%, nearly double the female decline.
If recent trends continue, we will soon reach a milestone: there will be more than three female students for every two male ones. Girl students may find it hard to get dates with guys!! Ironically, the reverse was the case a half century earlier; almost 60% of students in the 1969-70 school year were male. At that time, the burning issue was: should elite Ivy League schools admit female students! They did, and the number of all-male schools is approaching zero.
Some potential explanations seem unsupported by evidence. It is true, for example, that more young men are incarcerated than women, but that does not work as a good explanation of most of the changes of the last decade or two (possibly partially offsetting that, for example, both the number and proportion of young men in the armed forces has declined as a proportion of the population).
Let me throw out another, no doubt controversial possibility: young men increasingly feel colleges dont want them. Professors and student activists rant about white male privilege. Colleges are trying to literally throw prominent dead white male alumni off campus, taking their names off buildings or even removing statutes. A group at Washington and Lee tried (unsuccessfully) to even take the name of a white male (Lee) out of the universitys name.
Assumed in all of this: our male ancestors, especially white ones, did lots of evil things that the present, more morally upright and sensitive generation needs to correct. Our largely male dominated past is not a good one. The diversity and inclusion bureaucracy on campuses are mainly preoccupied by racial issues, but also go out of their way to promote women as well. Men may be increasingly viewed by incoming college administrators as necessary evils, cash cows to help pay the bills. As a consequence, some young guys are perhaps saying the hell with it, I will get a good job in construction, as a computer coder or as a medical technician with limited non-collegiate postsecondary occupational training, avoiding the implicit campus ostracizing, while also escaping a ton of student debt. I havent seen comprehensive gender breakdowns in enrollment in coding academies or welding schools, but a relative of mine graduating recently from truck driving school was in a class 81% male. I bet that is pretty typical. I suspect vocational schools take racial/gender bean-counting of students less seriously than universities trying to show their wokeness and politically correct commitment to eliminating racial, ethnic and gender barriers.
There are perhaps other good reasons for surging female enrollment relative to males. Girls on average do better in school, for example, and therefore may be better prepared for college. I also suspect that such sad modern trends as the decline in two parent families has led to dysfunctionalities in boy teen-agers more than girl ones. Fewer young women become dope dealers then men, for example.
If I were a college president at a school struggling for students, I would examine enrollment trends by gender and, if males have declined in numbers more than females, ask: what are we doing to turn men off to our school? Should diversity and inclusion mean numerical equality between men and women? Should we putting more pictures of happy male students in our brochures and internet promotions?