Higher education gender gap a growing concern
December 11, 2008
Female enrollment at UW-River Falls has remained ahead of male enrollment by 17 percent this year, a growing trend that mirrors the nation.
Males are not being encouraged to go onto post secondary education. Unaddressed, this trend will affect the economy, make-up of the workforce and society, according to Alan Tuchtenhagen, associate vice chancellor for enrollment services.
Nationally, female college enrollment passed male enrollment in 1978, and the gender gap has widened and is expected to grow, according a 2006 press release from the U.S. Department of Education.
“In this day and age, it is brain power that gets you the jobs,” Tuchtenhagen, who has presented on the gender gap issue at national conferences, said. “[The data] behooves all of us to be conscious about who we are leaving behind.”
An educated workforce attracts businesses and leads to higher incomes. The higher income translates into more tax revenue for the state, Tuchtenhagen said.
Based on the largest workforce education in the United States, Wisconsin ranked 25th while Minnesota ranked seventh. Education includes advanced degrees, bachelor’s degrees, associates degrees and some college, according to the 2008 State Economy Index report from Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
The UW System has a total of 94,387 females enrolled and a total of 79,006 males, according to a UWS informational memoranda released in March. Closing the gender gap difference of 15,381 potentially could increase tax revenue in the future.
“One of the [state’s] goals is to get more people have more education,” Tuchtenhagen said.
The increase of educated women in the workforce is the success of affirmative action that began in the 1960s.
Women are projected to account for 49 percent of the increase in total labor force growth between 2006 and 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
One male student at UWRF said that he would have trepidations about competing against a female for a job.
“It’s almost come to the point where if a guy does do something better than a girl for some reason he feels guilty about it,” junior Samuel McCutcheon said. “I know this is true for myself. It’s almost like that no hitting girls rule has morphed into don’t challenge what girls do, at all.”
According to Tuchtenhagen, a segment of the population understands the need for higher education.
“Women are grasping the importance of education more so than guys, he said.
Elementary education senior Katie Lynn Anderson said that she wants to make a difference in the world with children and the question was where-not if-to go to college.
“In my mind it wasn’t if I was going to go [to college],” Anderson said. “That question never even crossed my mind; it was just the next step.”
Males have not been encouraged into social work, nursing or teaching in the same way females have been encouraged to pursue careers in math and science, according to Tuchtenhagen.
A balance of males and females makes for the best work environment, according to Anderson.
“I’m picturing the workplace like how my classes are-more female populated. I couldn’t handle it first of all,” she said. “Men create stability for women and women create stability for men.”
The lack of encouragement for men into non-traditional male careers may be what is holding some guys back, McCutcheon said.
“I think if you made it clear to men that it was a viable option and that you can show them there is a career in these different areas some guys might go into it,” he said.
The gender gap in post secondary enrollment is an equity issue rather than a matter of discrimination.
“When we kicked down the doors [for women] we put a lot of apparatus in place that were encouraging and supporting for women to go onto higher education,” Tuchtenhagen said. “There is not a really strong apparatus right now that encourages guys onto higher education.”
A four-year university is not the only option for higher education. Student Organizations Coordinator Jon Levendoski said what should change is the mindset that everyone must get a bachelors degree.
Junior Kelly Bryant said that she noticed girls at her high school in La Crosse, Wis. were more focused than boys on school.
“I felt like more girls were more motivated to go to college than guys-[girls] seemed to care a lot more about their grades,” she said.
Post secondary options encompass not only includes a four-year college degree, but vocational training, a two-year college degree or certificate programs as well.
“Technical schools can be perfect for some people,” Levendoski said. “[Changing this mindset] has to start in high school.”
Family encouragement helped agriculture engineering senior Tyler DeWolf make the decision to attend college. DeWolf grew up on a farm in Stillwater, Minn. and said that his father pushed him to get an education.
“He wanted me to have more opportunities that he did and not want me stuck with one career my whole life,” he said.
Sandi Scott-Duex, the first female director of Residence Life at UWRF, said that an important step is being aware of both genders and the different thought processes that each possess.
“‘What does it mean to be a male in college?’ is an important question to ask, but we can’t do that at the expense of leaving out the females,” she said. “I think it’s a huge challenge.”