As colleges struggle to establish post-pandemic normalcy, they’re also dealing with a drastic decline in men’s college admission numbers.
The most recent statistics reflect a dramatic overall dip in college enrollment numbers. Compared to Spring 2020, Spring 2021 college enrollments declined for all students. The drop was significantly higher for men.
While 203,000 fewer women enrolled, statistics show a 400,000 student decrease for men. In community colleges, enrollment dropped by 14.4% for men and 6% for women. However, the numbers are not as drastic in four-year colleges. Women showed a net increase of 1%, while males showed a 2.7% decrease.
Who produces the statistics?
Many organizations track college trends based on their active roles in the application and enrollment process.
- Common App: A college application service that promotes admission access, integrity, and equity.
- National Student Clearinghouse Research Center: Researches college data with the goal of improving student outcomes.
- StudentAid.Gov: A US Department of Education agency that processes Financial Application For Student Aid (FAFSA) applications.
- The Pell Institute: A research and policy analysis organization with a goal of improving college opportunities for low-income, first-generation, and disabled college students.
The numbers tell a story
The current men’s college admission decrease is, in part, a continuance of a pandemic-related enrollment decline. Common App research documented a 13% overall decrease in fall 2020 admissions.
The organization attributed these losses to health, financial, and personal hardships directly related to the pandemic.
These factors often cause enrollment concerns for community college students, low-income students, and underrepresented minority students. Additional issues foreshadow a continuing enrollment slump through fall 2021 and beyond.
- Overall, spring 2021 post-secondary school enrollment dropped by 3.5% over spring 2020 numbers. This change produced a net loss of 603,000 students.
- Undergraduate programs lost 727,000 students, while graduate programs gained 124,000 students overall.
- Community colleges documented a 9.5% decrease in undergraduate enrollments, a loss of 476,000, primarily associate degree students.
- Enrollments for students ages 18 to 24 declined by 5% (524,000), a far higher drop than other age groups. This number is primarily a reflection of the decrease in community college enrollment.
- StudentAid.gov documented 270,000 fewer Free Applications for Federal Student Aid submissions. This 5% FAFSA reduction confirms reduced student requests for financial aid.
Statistics are just one part of the narrative
With the opening of fall semesters across the country, the male college admission issue has become a hot media topic. This issue is likely because white males are a critical factor in decreasing enrollment numbers. Among working-class and lower-income males, white males enrolled in lower numbers than any other ethnic group. Major media outlets examine this and other issues from varying points of view.
The Yahoo! Life article, “The College Gender Gap Is Spiraling Out of Control, And Men Are Losing Out,” addresses the white male enrollment gap. The author speculates that organizations find difficulty in helping a group of historically “favored” students who receive “outsized” post-graduate rewards.
The Wall Street Journal article, “A Generation of American Men Give Up on College: ‘I Just Feel Lost,’” discusses several prominent issues.
- Student debt: Some male students consider college tuition a financial risk for which they couldn’t see the value.
- Racial disparities: Universities don’t have the “tools” to assist white male students. A college counselor at one school expressed concern about allocating resources to the “…most privileged group on campus….”
The New York Times article, “Men Fall Behind in College Enrollment. Women Still Play Catch-Up at Work,” looked at female enrollment numbers from a different perspective. The author suggests that women remain in college in higher numbers because they have to. As many female-dominated careers pay lower wages, women need a degree for greater earning power.
Will men’s college admission numbers bounce back?
Higher education statistics have always reflected demographic imbalances. They once skewed dramatically in favor of white men over everyone else. In the past, colleges implemented varying strategies to increase enrollment among underrepresented groups. It took Title lX legislation, student loans, grants, and decades of effort to change that dynamic.
As the current male/female disparity occurred due to a completely different set of reasons, colleges probably won’t rush to employ these types of efforts. So will male enrollment numbers bounce back? Only time can answer that question.