The Irascible Professor SM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"One of the reasons for the failure of feminism to dislodge deeply held perceptions of male and female behaviour was its insistence that women were victims, and men powerful patriarchs, which made a travesty of ordinary people's experience of the mutual interdependence of men and women."...  ... Rosalind Coward.

Commentary of the Day - August 28, 2005:  Is it Time to Establish More Men's Centers on College Campuses?

This commentary was motivated by the confluence of three events: the arrival in my campus mailbox of the annual Almanac Issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, the arrival of the Fall 2005 Calendar of Events for the Women's Center/Adult Reentry Center here at Krispy Kreme U. (Cal State Fullerton), and my noticing a recent story in The Times (the one published in the U.K.) by Carol Midgely that reviews a new book by Marian Salzman, Ira Matathia, and Ann O'Reilly entitled The Future of Men.

In 2000 the IP published a commentary, "Where have all the boys gone?", that highlighted the decline in the percentage of males attending college.  The following year he published a more extensive study in the Cal State Fullerton Senate Forum that showed that relative declines in male enrollment here at Cal State Fullerton were more severe for underrepresented minority males than they were for Asian and white males though for all ethnic groups including whites and Asians female students substantially outnumbered male students.

Unfortunately, this gender imbalance in favor of female students has not raised the same level of concern that the imbalance in favor of male students did a few decades ago.  A small number of articles have been written on the subject, and a few conference sessions have touched on the issue.  But, by and large, little action has been taken to address the issue.  For some reason, it seems to be politically incorrect to talk about the problems that male students have either at the K-12 level or in college.

The data from the 2005 edition of the Almanac confirm that female undergraduate enrollments continue to exceed male enrollments significantly.  Unfortunately, there is a lag between the gathering and the reporting of enrollment data at the national level, so the latest information available for enrollments by gender is for the Fall 2002 semester.  At that time females comprised 60.4% of the American Indian enrollment, 53.1% of the Asian enrollment, 64.2% of non-Hispanic Black enrollment, 57.9% of the Hispanic enrollment, and 56% of the non-Hispanic white enrollment.  These data combine information from students across the spectrum of higher education -- public and private universities and colleges as well as community colleges.

At the time the IP wrote the earlier articles, that data indicated that male undergraduates still had a higher persistence to graduation than females.  However, the latest data from the Almanac show that female persistence to graduation now is higher than that of males.  The six-year graduation rates for freshman entering four-year institutions in 1996  were 38.6% for American Indian females compared to 34.6% for American Indian males, 66.2% for Asian females compared to 58.7% for Asian males, 42.2% for non-Hispanic Black females compared to 32.3% for non-Hispanic Black males, 48.3% for Hispanic females compared to 40.6% for Hispanic males, and 60.1% for non-Hispanic white females compared to 53.9% for non-Hispanic white males.  It seems that not only have the college-going rates for males declined substantially over the past few decades;  but, that graduation rates for male college students now are declining as well.

One of the messages in Salzman's book is that feminism has triumphed in a number of sectors of society over the past few decades.  Certainly this has been the case in K-12 education.  It has become a largely female enterprise, and young boys often find themselves without male role models for most of their K-12 experience.  A few decades ago feminists worried that young girls were not being taken seriously in school.  Now it seems that it is the boys who are being short changed.  Often their more rambunctious behavior causes concern.  Boys are far more likely than girls to labeled as "hyperactive" or having "attention deficit disorder" by their teachers.  Young boys also often are subjected to peer pressures that work against their intellectual development, particularly in minority communities.  As a result fewer male high school graduates (proportionately) are going to college, and those that do matriculate often are less well equipped than their female counterparts to cope with the intellectual and social pressures of college life.

Women's Centers were established on college campuses across the country in the later part of the 20'th century to help women deal with the social pressures and prejudices of the times.  Today their mission has changed.  In the words of Barbara McDowell, the director of Cal State Fullerton's  Women's Center/Adult Reentry Center, "the [current] primary mission of university women's centers is to illuminate current social, psychological, economic and political realities for women and men."  The problem, however, is that while the mission has changed few campus women's centers have fully adapted to the shifting realities.  A few campuses across the country actually have established separate "men's centers" to help male students deal with these issues.  And, on a small number of campuses women's centers have morphed into "women's and men's centers".  But most campus women's centers remain just that -- centers devoted to helping women students with their problems.

Here at Cal State Fullerton the "Women's Center" became the Women's Center/Adult Reentry Center several years ago to reflect the fact that many of our returning adult students, both male and female, needed support as they reentered college after several years in the workforce or as homemakers.  Recently, our women's center, like some others across the country, has made some attempts to be more welcoming to male students.  But like most women's centers the staffing remains largely female, and the programs of the center are weighted far more heavily towards the needs of female students than towards the needs of male undergraduates.

The reality, however, is that today's male undergraduates face problems at least as severe as those faced by the female students of thirty or forty years ago.  Whether male undergraduates would be best served by having their own "men's centers" or by more gender neutral "women's and men's centers" is an open question.  But, it is a question that deserves serious discussion by faculty, administrators, and student services professionals.

One thing that should not be in question, however, is the need for a more equitable allocation of resources for support services for male undergraduates.

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© 2005 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.
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