My alma mater, Ouachita Baptist University, and my wife’s alma mater, Henderson State University, sit across the street from each other in Arkadelphia. In many ways they are in different worlds – OBU being a private Baptist college, HSU being an affordable state school.
But they, like all but four of the state’s 46 two-year and four-year colleges, universities and nursing schools, have this in common: In the student body, females outnumber males.
According to the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, almost 59 percent of college students in Arkansas were females during the fall 2012 semester. In other words, for every two males going to school, there were three females. Females made up 59 percent of the student population at Henderson and 54 percent at OBU. Women are two-thirds of the students at UAMS, the state’s medical school.
The overall numbers have been similar for each of the past five years in Arkansas, and they mirror what is happening nationally. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in 2010 there were a little more than 9 million men enrolled as full-time and part-time college students, compared to almost 12 million women. In 2009-10, women earned 57 percent of all bachelor’s degrees, 60 percent of master’s degrees, and slightly more than half of doctoral degrees.
This gender gap will change society. While of course not everyone needs a college degree and many admirable people succeed without one, on average, job opportunities are better for those with a diploma. According to the NCES, the median income in 2010 for a young adult with a college degree was $45,000, compared to $29,900 for those with a high school diploma or equivalent. According to a 2010 article in The Atlantic, "The End of Men," women lead in 13 of the 15 job categories expected to grow this decade.
This occurs against the backdrop of the Great Recession, which economists tell us supposedly ended in 2009. During a speech to the Arkansas School Boards Association last December, Dr. James Johnson, a North Carolina demographer, said 80 percent of the jobs lost during the recession were held by men, primarily in construction and manufacturing. After controlling for inflation, the median wage of men has declined by $13,000 since 1969.
Could these trends change? The percentage of male college students in Arkansas has remained steady for five years, so at least it’s not declining. Some K-12 schools in Arkansas are adopting new teaching models, such as New Tech schools that are focused on project-based learning, and the A+ model that emphasizes art and adapts to different learning styles. Maybe boys will do better if they can start using their hands more.
Moreover, Arkansas is placing a major emphasis on STEM classes – STEM being an acronym for "science, technology, engineering and math," which are subjects that traditionally have been more interesting to boys, for whatever reason.
Then again, that’s something Arkansas is trying to change as well. We want more girls to succeed in those subjects. This year’s Arkansas Young Engineer of the Year was not your typical clean-cut young man. Her name is Claire McKinney, and she won the award because not only is she an excellent traffic engineer at North Little Rock-based Garver, but she also organized the firm’s Salvation Army Angel Tree program that provides Christmas gifts to needy children.
This being an opinion column, I’m supposed to offer an opinion. I’m not sure what I can add to what you’ve already concluded, but I’ll try. I think we all know why women are outpacing men. Today’s economy rewards brains over brawn, and while women aren’t necessarily smarter, they tend to be less stupid. We all know which gender is more likely to dutifully study and act responsibly, particularly during the foundational late teenage and young adult years. Meanwhile, men are the gender most likely to drive recklessly, get arrested, or travel to Spain to run in front of bulls. Which gender comes to mind when I use the words "goof off"? Exactly.
Finally, this isn’t good for women, either. Women don’t need men to fail in order to succeed. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The goal of the feminist movement was, or should have been, to create more choices for women, but women will have fewer choices if men don’t better adapt to the demands of the new marketplace, for two reasons.
First, the United States won’t remain competitive if half of its workforce is lagging. A receding tide lowers all boats.
And second, many women still want to leave the workforce when they have children, at least for a while. They won’t have that choice if men aren’t ready to be breadwinners.
Guys, we need to step it up. This isn’t just about getting an education; it’s about making responsible choices. Not all of us must go to college. Hard times can strike even the most diligent and well prepared. But maybe some of us are goofing off, too.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His blog — Independent Arkansas — is linked at arkansasnews.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.