Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Gender Gap and Low College Graduation Rates

By Richard Vedder

The estimable Kati Haycock's outfit (Education Trust) has come out with a new study showing what CCAP readers already know, namely that a large proportion of the students who enter college do not finish in a timely fashion. This is one of the three factors explaining the enormous attrition in students from high school entrance to college graduation (the others: dropping out in high school, not entering college after higher school graduation). In this connection, much attention is placed on the low particpation of minorities in college, and their relatively high dropout rates.

At least as important, however, is another group that has poor college participation rates -- males. Over time, there has been a dramatic decline in the proportion of college students who are male. Instead of converging on equality of the sexes in this regards, we have gone from an era of male to female dominance in enrollments.

I was reading a piece by Bob Maurer of, where he reports some data by Tom Mortenson cited in a New York Times piece. It is suggested that for every 50 U.S. girls, there are 53 boys enrolled in elementary school, but only 48 graduate (per 50 girls) from high school. So there is some attrition of boys long before college. The big drop, comes, however, in the decision to enter college. Only 39 men enroll in college for every 50 women; there is also a greater dropping out in college among men as well, so only 37 men graduate from college for every 50 women (and only 31 earn master's degrees for every 50 women).

It is interesting to see how this pattern has developed over time. In 1960, there wer 184 males getting bachelor's degrees for every 100 females; by 1980, there were 104 males for every females, while in 2003 there were only 74 males per 100 women graduates.

If we had the same proportion of men graduating from college as women, and the female graduation rate remained unchanged, we would have about 12 to 13 percent more college graduates - over 200,000 more per year. This is a pretty sizable number. To be sure, we have argued on many occasions that perhaps too many persons go to college -- this is a factor in high college dropout rates. However, why are men both less likely to enter college, and slightly more likely to dropout? This is a question that some of our finest minds should be thinking about, and offering some answers. If college education is truly a key to economically productive lives as some claim, we are facing a dubious future if the group with the highest labor force particpation --men-- is relatively uneducated.

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