The Gender Shift in College Classrooms


Staff Writer

Men hold many positions of power. They’re movie directors, chief executive officers and head chefs. But when it comes to education in the modern era, women are the leaders.

“Where men once went to college in proportions far higher than women – 58 percent to 42 percent as recently as the 1970s – the ratio has now almost exactly reversed,” according to The Atlantic.

There are various reasons why women are beginning to outnumber their peers. Elisa Olivieri, a PhD candidate at the University of Chicago, found that the careers men and women choose plays a factor.

“Rather than working as teachers or nurses,” Olivieri wrote in “Occupational Choice and the College Gap,” “it seems many men would prefer to take jobs in construction or manufacturing. This helps explain why women outnumber men in the lecture hall.”

Teachers and nurses are typically jobs that women held in previous decades. But while more women are becoming lawyers and managers, which are largely seen as men’s jobs, men have been slow to go in the other direction.


Another reason for the imbalance could be that men either take longer to get a bachelor’s degree, or don’t get one at all.

“Department of Education statistics show that men, whatever their race or socioeconomic group, are less likely than women to get bachelor’s degrees,” according to The New York Times, “and among those who do, fewer complete their degrees in four or five years.”

The behavior of males in classrooms may be another factor. A common stereotype of young boys is that they are rowdy and rambunctious, which can result in various punishments.

“From the time they are young, boys are far more likely than girls to be suspended or expelled, or have a learning disability or emotional problem diagnosed,” according to The New York Times.

In addition, boys who don’t have an interest in school are reluctant to learn, and by the time high school and college comes around, it’s rather late to change that mindset.

A good example of gender disparity in college can be seen at Carlow University in Pennsylvania. Jessica Smith, an orientation leader at the school, recalled that a great deal of males at her high school wanted different options than going to college. “For a lot of my [male] high school friends, it was just too much time,” Smith said. “They were ready to get out. As opposed to a four- year college, they could go to an 18-month [vocational- education] program and make just as much money.” The shift in genders is not only due to the men who choose not to go to college, but also the women who have decided to work more.


“The roles have changed a lot,” said Travis Rothway, a junior at American University – a private school where only 36 percent of last year’s freshmen were male.

“Men have always been the dominant figure, providing for the household, but now women have broken out of their domestic roles in society,” Rothway said. “I don’t think guys’ willingness to work and succeed has changed, it’s more that the women have stepped up.”

The rise of women in college is something to celebrate, but the falling behind of men is a cause for concern.

“About 59 percent of students who began seeking a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year institution in fall 2009 completed that degree within 6 years,” according to The National Center for Education Statistics. “The graduation rate was higher for females than for males

(62 percent vs. 56 percent).” Men have held a grip on higher education for a long time, and this shift in college attendance and performance between the genders is notable, but not surprising. It proves that women can be just as capable as men, if not more.