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Is There a Crisis in Education of Males?

May 21, 2008

Statistics come out every year showing that greater proportions of college students are women. At some institutions, the gaps are so great that officials talk openly of affirmative action for male students.

But is there really a crisis for male students?

A report issued Tuesday by the American Association of University Women refers to a "so called" crisis and argues that there is no such thing with regard to male students as a whole. To the extent that there is a problem, the AAUW argues, it involves subsets of male students, such as inner city minority males who may attend poor high schools and be poorly prepared for college. The AAUW report was immediately challenged by others who have explored these issues, and who maintain that there really is a crisis -- and that it is irresponsible to ignore it.

The AAUW report, "Where the Girls Are: The Facts About Gender Equity in Education," reflects a growing concern from many advocates for female students that all of the data about male students is creating an "either/or" choice and discouraging efforts on behalf of women. "Educational achievement is not a zero-sum game, in which a gain for one group results in a corresponding loss for the other. If girls’ success comes at the expense of boys, one would expect to see boys’ scores decline as girls’ scores rise, but this has not been the case," the report says.

"Women are attending and graduating from high school and college at a higher rate than are their male peers, but these gains have not come at men’s expense. Indeed, the proportion of young men graduating from high school and earning college degrees today is at an all-time high," the report adds. "Women have made more rapid gains in earning college degrees, especially among older students, where women outnumber men by a ratio of almost 2-to-1. The gender gap in college attendance is almost absent among those entering college directly after graduating from high school, however, and both women and men are more likely to graduate from college today than ever before."

A major theme of the report is that what appears to be a gender issue (lagging male enrollments or graduation rates) is really a race and ethnicity issue (lagging rates for men from some groups).

Similarly, the AAUW cites test scores on the ACT and SAT to contest the idea of a crisis in the education of males. "Over all, test scores on the SAT and ACT exams challenge the notion of a boys’ crisis. Boys continue to hold an advantage, albeit small, on these undergraduate admissions tests. While the number of girls taking these exams has risen, so too has the number of boys."

Whenever the AAUW releases reports, there is a quick response from women's groups that question its assumptions. The Independent Women's Forum, for example, immediately questioned the analysis.

But so did some education experts.

Thomas Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, didn't question the specific numbers in the report or the idea that both male and female students can succeed at the same time. "Women have made huge progress in education over the last six decades," he said. "The success of women is a great story -- it shows what we can do when we set our minds to task."

But he said that in 1970, when he started his career in higher education policy analysis, there were 1.5 million more men than women in higher education and "I recall vividly that women complained that this was a crisis. Now there are 2.7 million more women than men in higher education and the feminists assert that this is not a crisis. What am I missing here?"

He noted the hugely disproportionate rates of suicide among men who are 25 to 34, and of incarceration, and asked how this could be anything but a crisis.

"The hypocrisy of the feminists -- AAUW being a major part of this -- astounds me," Mortenson said. "The fact is male lives are falling apart at the growing margins of male welfare, and the utter failure of the education system to address male needs on male terms is indeed a crisis. We have shown what the education system can do for women when we set our minds to it."

 

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