Mysterious Decline-Where Are the Men on Campus?
April 29, 2003
by Philip W. Cook and Glenn Sacks
The Trend is Clear
Everybody wants to know where
all the men have gone. The Washington Post calls their
disappearance the "question that has grown too conspicuous
to ignore," and USA Today notes "universities fret about how
to attract males as women increasingly dominate campuses."
Females now outnumber males by a four to three ratio in
American colleges, a difference of almost two million
students. Men earn only 43% of all college degrees. Among
blacks, two women earn bachelor's degrees for every man.
Among Hispanics, only 40 percent of college graduates are
male. Female high school graduates are 16% more likely to go
to college than their male counterparts.
"This is new. We have thrown the gender switch," says
Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American
Enterprise Institute and author of The War Against Boys: How
Misguided Feminism is Harming Our Young Men. "What does it
mean in the long run that we have females who are
significantly more literate, significantly more educated
than their male counterparts? It is likely to create a lot
of social problems. This does not bode well for anyone."
"As a nation, we simply can't afford to have half of our
population not developing the skill sets that we are going
to need to go into the future," says Susan L. Traiman,
director of the Business Roundtable's education initiative.
Researchers from Harvard University, the University of
Michigan and the United Negro College Fund have now agreed
to study the issue.
"This is a powerful issue we need to stop talking about in
generalities and really dig into," says Michael L. Lomax,
president of Dillard University in New Orleans. "We just
can't figure out how to get more male applicants, and we're
not going to turn students down on the basis on gender,"
Lomax says. "I don't understand what is happening in the
male community that is making education seem less attractive
and less compelling."
The trend is unmistakable and some fear it is irreversible.
Men made up the majority of college graduates when the first
national survey was conducted in 1870. Except during World
War II, when slightly more females enrolled than men, males
were in the majority until men's graduation rate began to
decline in the late 1970s. By the early 1980s women began to
represent the majority of graduates.
In total, the U.S. Department of Education estimates that
698,000 women received bachelor's degrees in 2002, compared
to 529,000 men.
Yet the loss in national
productivity that this trend portends is not a concern to
some. Jacqueline Woods, executive director of the American
Association of University Women, denies that men's declining
enrollments is a crisis or even a gender issue. She notes
that those concerned about boys' sagging educational
performance are "playing a zero-sum game" and says "I refuse
to play." Columnist Ellen Goodman dismisses boy-friendly
educational reformers as being motivated by the fact that
"educated women have always made some people nervous." She,
Woods and writer Barbara Ehrenreich argue that the college
gender gap is another example of the disadvantages faced by
women! According to Ehrenreich, "men suspect they can make a
living just as well without a college education, since they
still have such an advantage over women in the
Not only are the problems of college males being minimized
in some quarters, but also much of the discussion of the
lack of males in college surrounds the destructive impact it
may have upon females. For example, an ABC.com report on the
subject gloats "No More Big Man on Campus?" while declaring
that the "College Gender Gap Could Mean Women Lose Mating
Game" and asking "Must Women Go Slummin'?" Canadian
journalist Lysiane Gagnon laments in the Globe and Mail that
"the next generation of Quebec women might face a difficult
love life...in a few years the province will be filled with
high-paid, ambitious, professional women. Across the dance
floor will be a large group of losers -- uneducated men
stuck in small, low-paying jobs."
A Hidden Issue
Sophomore Adam Petkun and Senior Jesse Harding at the
University of Oregon, who work at the Associated Students
office, are typical of many male students on campuses across
the country. They didn't know that women outnumber men on
their campus. They were both surprised, but not shocked by
the information. Neither had any thoughts on why it was
occurring or seemed concerned about the trend. Martin S. a
junior at Portland State University after giving it some
thought didn't think the trend is ultimately a good thing.
"I don't know why this is going on. It seems like blue
collar physical jobs that usually go to men are on the
decline, so you'd think there would be more men attending
college not less. I know some guys who have taken to going
into high-tech and feel they don't need a degree, but even
in quite a few of those jobs a degree is obviously a help.
It's a mystery to me."
It is also apparently a surprise and a mystery to most high
"The few counselors I have talked with seem surprised by the
trend," said Richard Wong, executive director of the
American School Counselor Association, the nation's largest
school counseling group. "I don't think there has been a
conscious effort to exclude white males, because
historically they have been able to take care of themselves.
A lot more attention has been paid to other groups,
minorities and women, but perhaps the pendulum has swung too
far." Although the ASCA has conducted initiative programs
for women and minorities, it does not plan any affirmative
campaign to address the decline in male college attendance.
"If it becomes a major issue the board will likely consider
a response," said Wong.
According to Mark Kuranz, a former president of the ASCA and
currently a high-school counselor in Racine, Wisconsin,
"Certainly college is very accessible for girls, and there
is more competition with boys for the available spots. You
would think however, there would a leveling off or the
attendance and the graduation rate would be pretty level.
Perhaps we have begun to expect less from boys."
An Early Start to Giving Up on College?
Boys have fallen seriously behind girls at all K-12 levels.
By high school the typical boy is a year and a half behind
the typical girl in reading and writing. Girls get better
grades than boys and boys are far more likely than girls to
drop out of school or to be disciplined, suspended, held
back, or expelled. Boys are four times as likely to receive
a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder as
girls, and the vast majority of learning-disabled students
The problem is a complex one, but a fundamental reason
behind the phenomena is that modern K-12 education is not
suited to boys' needs and learning styles. Success in school
is tightly correlated with the ability to sit still, be
quiet, and complete work that is presented in a dull,
assembly line fashion. There is little outlet for natural
boyish energy and exuberance in schools, and as a result
many boys-even those as young as five or six-- end up being
given Ritalin or other drugs so they can sit still. At every
step of the way those whose natures are least accommodating
to this type of education--boys--fall by the wayside.
Boys' educational problems often begin as soon as they go to
kindergarten. Michelle Ventimiglia, director of a Los
Angeles pre-school, says:
"Our schools simply aren't made for boys. I see this every
September when my students go into elementary school. My
boys do great here, but when they go on to elementary school
all of a sudden some of them become 'behavior problems' or
'bad kids.' How can a six year-old be 'bad?'
"Children need physically connected activities, particularly
boys. They learn best by doing. Too often teachers find it
easier to simply give them worksheets instead. And now, with
so much time being devoted to testing and preparing for
testing, teachers' repertoires are even more limited, which
is bad for children, particularly boys."
When boys are unable to fit into a school environment that
clearly is not suited to them, they are often diagnosed with
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and given Ritalin
or other drugs. Nearly nine million prescriptions of Ritalin
are written for American children each year, most of them
for boys between the ages of six and 12. According to
Stanford University's Thomas Sowell, author of Inside
American Education: The Decline, the Deception, the Dogmas,
the drugging of boys is "part of a growing tendency to treat
boyhood as a pathological condition that requires a new
three R's repression, re education and Ritalin." He notes:
"The motto used to be: 'Boys will be boys.' Today, the motto
seems to be: 'Boys will be medicated.'"
Kuranz says these issues are beginning to be addressed in
schools. "The conversation is beginning to be heard"
regarding more active learning methods and the over-use of
Less For Men's Sports
The decline of men's college sports has also contributed
to the disappearance of men on college campuses. Title IX of
the Education Amendments Act of 1972 bars sex discrimination
in any educational program or activity that receives federal
funding. In the decades since, women's athletics have
burgeoned in high schools and colleges. Title IX was and
remains an important and laudable victory for the women's
Some feminist groups, however, lobbied successfully to use
an obscure bureaucratic action known as the 1979 Policy
Interpretation to mandate that the number of athletes in
college athletic programs reflect within a few percentage
points the proportion of male and female students on campus.
The problem is, as studies have shown, fewer women than men
are interested in playing organized sports, even though the
opportunity is available. Even in all-female colleges the
number of women athletes fall considerably below that needed
to satisfy Title IX requirements in coed colleges.
In addition, the current Title IX equity calculations are
misleading because they count college football's athletes
and dollars without considering football's moneymaking
ability. In fact, over 70% of Division I-A football programs
turn a profit.
Thus schools are caught in a vise. Because schools need
football's revenue yet must also equalize gender numbers,
they are forced to cut men's non-revenue sports.
Todd R. Dickey, University of Southern California's general
counsel, and many others argue that football should simply
be taken out of the gender equity equation because no other
sport earns as much revenue, has such a large number of
athletes or staff, and needs as much equipment. "You can't
spend as much on women's sports as you can on men's, because
there is no women's equivalent for football," Dickey says.
Thus women have gained a little but men have lost a lot.
According to the National Collegiate Athletic Association
(NCAA), for every new women's athletics slot created between
1992 and 1997, 3.6 male athletes were dropped. During the
same period, colleges added 5,800 female athletes--and cut
20,000 male athletes. More than 400 men's collegiate
athletic teams have been eliminated nationwide since the
advent of Title IX. Kimberly Schuld, director of the
Independent Women's Forum's Title IX Play Fair! Project,
calls this "clear, government-sanctioned sex
The current situation in men's sports in college has
prompted some recent reconsideration, but no clear
direction. The Commission on Opportunity in Athletics' is
looking at recommendations to Secretary of Education Rod
Paige. In testimony before the commission, Deborah
Zelechowski, a senior vice president at Robert Morris
College in Chicago, said that she has a male student
population of just 36%. ''We need more males,'' she said,
''yet we cannot offer more male athletic teams--the letter of
the law of Title IX is interfering with the spirit of the
An anti-male campus?
Nearly every large college campus and many smaller ones
have a Women's Studies department. There are over five
hundred women's studies departments and over one hundred
colleges that offer a degree program in women's studies.
There is not a single degree program or department in men's
studies in the U.S. It is difficult to get exact numbers,
but it appears that there are fewer than a dozen classes
labeled men's studies being offered in colleges anywhere.
Some that are labeled men's studies are in fact anti-male.
Kenyon College, for example, has a Men's Studies program
that in the words of one professor is in opposition to, "The
white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied, Christian,
Some academicians contend that the ascendancy of women's
studies on campus was a mistake. They argue that such issues
do not properly belong in a narrowly defined 'feminist'
approach to learning, but in already established fields of
study such as sociology and history. In any case, there
certainly has been little demonstrated movement among
college administrators to offer men's studies departments or
courses, and men's resource centers. Bret Burkholder a
professor at Pierce Community College in Puyallup,
Washington has set up a resource center on his campus. He
says such efforts can help, "We must learn and establish
alternative ways of instruction and student services support
that are more in step with the predominate ways that men
learn and communicate. We have to respect men, their ways of
learning and expression if we are to earn their respect and
trust. No one stays where they aren't wanted or valued."
The claim that an anti-male agenda exists in our
universities is difficult to understand unless one is
immersed in today's college culture.
Denesh D'Souza in his book, Illiberal Education, the
Politics of Race and Sex on Campus argues that a system
has emerged which has encouraged separatism: "By the time
these students graduate, very few colleges have met their
need for all-round development. Instead, by precept and
example, the ideal of an educated person is largely a
figment of bourgeois white male ideology, which should be
cast aside." He charges that the American students are
getting is not a liberal education but, "its diametrical
opposite, an education in closed-mindedness and
D'Souza and others point to Women's Studies departments as a
prime mover in this change. Thomas Sort, a professor of
philosophy at Kenyon College, says, "Ideological dogmatism
is the norm not the exception in Women's Studies. They
practice the very exclusion that they claim to have suffered
in the past." It is not that men are not welcome just in
Women's Studies programs. The programs may have fostered an
environment in which the very presence of males on campus is
a threat to a worldview that sees things only in terms of
oppressors and the oppressed.
Deliberate misinformation about men and gender issues are an
integral part of modern campus culture. Women's centers and
women's studies departments publicize and promote
discredited academic frauds like "one in four college women
has been the victim of rape or attempted rape" and "domestic
violence is the leading cause of injury to women aged 15 to
44." Sommers, who debunked many academic feminist claims in
Who Stole Feminism?, calls these "Hate Statistics."
The statistics help to set up a campus mindset where it
makes sense to be anti-male. If, for example, one believes
the oft-stated feminist claim that on an average campus a
woman is raped every 21 hours, who wouldn't be? (In reality,
there is an average of less than one reported rape per three
American college campuses per year).
Women's studies textbooks provide a view of the hostility
towards men in our universities. According to an extensive
study of women's studies textbooks released in 2002 by the
IWF, a dissident women's group, the textbooks "ignore facts
in favor of myths," "mistake ideology for scholarship," and
encourage students to "embrace aggrievement, not knowledge."
The study, "Lying in a Room of One's Own: How Women's
Studies Textbooks Miseducate Students," examined the five
most popular Women Studies' textbooks in the United States
and found relentless woman-as-victim/man-as-victimizer bias
and hostility. According to the author, Christine Stolba,
the textbooks construe or distort studies and statistics to
infer that women are miserable and oppressed, and that men
are privileged oppressors.
Among the "truths" the textbooks tell students are: Women
are under siege from virtually all sectors of society;
little has changed for women in the past three decades;
believing that women have achieved equality is "modern
sexism"; and most women are not naturally sexually attracted
to men but are the victims of "compulsory heterosexuality"
maintained through male "social control." Bad fathers are
described as the rule rather than the exception, the
prevalence of sexual abuse and molestation is wildly
exaggerated, and students are told that in families fathers
often represent a "foreign male element" that mothers and
daughters must unite against.
UCLA is one of the few universities in which a debate on the
anti-male bias on campus has actually been allowed to take
place, and this was only because of a full-page ad in the
campus newspaper. The IWF ran a full-page advertisement in
UCLA's student newspaper, the Daily Bruin, which
asked "Are you tired of male-bashing and victimology?" The
ad debunked what it called the "Ten Most Common Feminist
Myths," including "30 percent of emergency room visits by
women each year are the result of injuries from domestic
violence," "women have been shortchanged in medical
research," "one in four women in college has been the victim
of rape or attempted rape," and others. Feminists, led by
Tina Oakland, director of the UCLA Center for Women and Men,
and Christie Scott, executive co-chair of the UCLA
Clothesline Project, launched campus demonstrations against
what Scott called "a violent ad, a very hostile ad" which
"breeds a very bad attitude toward campus women." Oakland
said that challenging one in four is like denying the
Holocaust. A feminist professor wrote to the Daily Bruin
claiming that the IWF ad served to "ferment intolerant,
anti-woman...sentiment and action on campus" and "incite
hate." While the Daily Bruin refused to apologize for
the ad, its viewpoint editor was cowed, and expressed regret
that the paper had "let something so anti-woman through."
Oakland, after being castigated by some in conservative
magazines, backed off of her defense of the "1 in 4" figure
rape figure, explaining that "the statistics don't really
matter that much in the big picture."
Can Balance be Achieved?
A serious national effort is needed to redress the gender
imbalance in our universities and the biggest solution to
the absence of boys from our college campuses will be
boy-friendly reforms at the K-12 level. Sommers notes that
one of the greatest challenges reformers face is the fact
that our society is largely unaware of or refuses to
recognize the boy crisis in our schools. She contrasts this
with England, which embarked upon boy-friendly educational
reforms in the early 90s and has met with some success.
Part of this national effort will be a retooling of our
schools to create boy-friendly classrooms and teaching
strategies. Boys in particular need strong, charismatic
teachers who mix firm discipline with a good-natured
acceptance of boyish energy. Concomitantly, a sharp increase
in the number of male teachers is also needed, particularly
at the elementary level, where female teachers outnumber
male teachers six to one. Same-sex classes can also be
helpful, and schools should have the power to employ them
Beyond reforms at the K-12 level, it is apparent that
college campuses need to be places where males feel as
welcome as females. Women's Studies needs to be either
abolished, converted to Gender Studies and its texts and
studies put under strict peer review, or departments of
equal stature and funding need to be created that are
devoted to Men's Studies. It only seems fair and balanced.
At the very least, many Women's Studies textbooks need to be
replaced by texts which consider both male and female points
of view on gender issues and which cite only academically
credible research. Title IX needs to be brought back to its
original intent, and viable men's athletic programs need to
The decline in male attendance and college achievement does
not appear to be a statistical aberration, or one that will
correct itself without attention being paid to the issue.
Certainly society is not better off if a significant number
of our best and brightest young men fail to seek or earn a
college education. We need to take the first step by
acknowledging that the decline of males on campus is a
significant social and economic problem. This realization
need not detract from the mission to provide equal
educational opportunities for women. It may lead to
recognizing that at least some real discriminatory lack of
accommodation for males in education campus exists, and that
reforms and different approaches are needed. If these steps
are not taken, it seems clear that the decline of males on
campus will continue at its present rapid rate.
This column first appeared in the book
Abuse Your Illusions: The Disinformation Guide to Media Mirages
and Establishment Lies published by
The Disinformation Company.
Philip W. Cook is the author of
Abused Men-The Hidden Side of Domestic Violence
(Greenwood/Praeger), and is the Vice President of
Stop Abuse For Everyone.
Glenn Sacks is a men's and fathers' issues columnist and
radio talk show host. His columns have appeared in dozens of
America's largest newspapers. His radio show,
His Side with Glenn Sacks,
can be heard every Sunday on KRLA 870 AM in Los Angeles. Glenn
can be reached via his website, at