College Enrollment: Gender Disparities and the U


Jack Gambassi

The block U on campus on Feb. 2, 2021. (Photo by Jack Gambassi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Chandler Joost, News Writer


In a recent article published by the Wall Street Journal titled “A Generation of American Men Give up On College: I Just Feel Lost,” a trend was uncovered, a trend that has been happening in the American higher education system: men are dropping out of college at a much higher rate than women, as well as not attending college at a higher rate than women.

“Men are abandoning higher education in such numbers that they now trail female college students by record levels,” the article reads. “At the close of the 2020-21 academic year, women made up 59.5% of college students, an all-time high, and men 40.5%, according to enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit research group. U.S. colleges and universities had 1.5 million fewer students compared with five years ago, and men accounted for 71% of the decline.”

Professor Matthew Basso, a professor of history and gender studies at the University of Utah, said one of the main factors of gender disparities in college enrollment is the cost of college.

He explained that funding over the last twenty or thirty years for state schools has seen a decrease in the amount covered by state legislatures, thus increasing the amount of debt a student has to take on in order to attend college. According to Basso, even with the high cost of college, long term trends suggest it is still better to attend and receive a degree.

“These are big decisions to take on and there’s a lot of young men that are deciding, ‘you know what I’m not sure this is worth it,'” Basso said. “So, they don’t start off going to college, and then it gets in some ways harder and harder as you get older, to kind of break away from the working world and re-enter into the educational system. Young women on the other hand, are deciding that it is worth it. And they’re preparing well in high schools as The Wall Street Journal and other reports note. So, when they get to college, they’re in really good shape and they know what they’re doing.”

Some responses to the Wall Street Journal article stated the reason for decreasing numbers of men is due to the teaching or learning style of higher education institutions. Some claim that teaching styles cater to woman more so than they do for men; that is it easier for women to learn in a college setting than it is for men.

However, Basso said he does not buy that theory.

“I do think that there’s something to what folks are saying but they haven’t quite got it right,” Basso said. “I think women are in social spaces, the way that they’re kind of the way we construct, gender, for women is that they are allowed to be more interdependent. Right, so women are allowed to ask for help. And women are allowed to support each other. In fact, they’re expected to do those things. And because of that they create support networks that really make that decision to go to college, and then success in that crucial first two years of college, much more likely.”

Basso said young men face different circumstances socially: they are expected to be individuals and taught it’s weak to ask for help or to not know what they’re doing.

“You always have to kind of front and suggest that you’re not in over your head or anything like that, right,” Basso said. “So that’s, that’s again a gender construct that we tell young men that … they should not be asking for help, they should be able to do it on their own, and college just doesn’t work that way. And I should note that the working world doesn’t work that way.”

The article cited overall trends in the United States but not specific colleges and the U has not seen this same trend. Chase Hagood, senior associate vice president for the Office of Academic Affairs and dean of the Office of Undergraduate Studies, said male versus female enrollment goes back and forth.

“And on that data, as I’ve looked at the historic data … the U, unlike other institutions of our size — of our caliber, really isn’t struggling with that same trend that’s featured in The Wall Street Journal,” Hagood said.

Gender disparities in college enrollment is not a new concept to the higher education system, but Hagood said the U has opportunities for every student and that has helped them order to overcome, or even prevent, this trend.

“I think that in many ways the commitment of this university to every single student being successful here means that we’ve got a really diverse set of learning opportunities and a really wide ranging kind of approaches to teaching and learning from things like group projects to active learning in the classroom to experiential learning opportunities like Lassonde and study abroad and undergraduate research,” Hagood said. “And the challenge for us now with all of those wonderful kind of programs in place, I think the challenge and it’s an exciting one for us now, is thinking about how do we of take that to the next level.”


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