Gender Disparity on College Campuses


    By: Jamie Huish

    Jylare Johnson and her male cousin, Riley Orgill, can count lots of ways they are alike. They both love going snowboarding, eating Chinese food and watching the TV show, “24.”

    But the Huntington Beach, Calif. natives’ differences became more and more apparent when it came time to choose whether or not to go to college. Johnson headed up to BYU, while Orgill opted for a semester at a local community college, then, after his mission, decided to forgo school altogether and just work.

    Johnson and Orgill are just two of thousands of males and females across the nation choosing different routes for life after high school. The National Center for Education reports the number of females attending college in 2004 surpassed males by about 200,000 nationwide.

    The freshman class at BYU feels the implications as well, even more so because of the amount of boys leaving on missions. For the incoming freshman class of 2006, 57 percent of the applicants were girls, while only 43 percent were boys. Nationally, the ratio is closer to 60-40 in girls’ favor, according to the National Department of Education.

    “A college degree is very important these days, and I couldn’t get a job I would want, that would pay, without one,” Johnson said.

    Orgill wasn’t so sure if the same was true for him.

    “I think it’s possible to get a good paying job without [a degree] for me,” he said. Orgill worked at an auto glass showroom making what he felt was a good wage.

    Similar stories are happening at schools all over the country whether they are public, private, large or small. At the University of North Texas, a school with an enrollment sizes roughly the same as BYU, the ratio is also 57-43 according to the 2002-2003 Fact Book. At University of California schools, an overview of 2005 shows 55 percent female to 45 percent male, according to the University of California Office of the President’s Web site. Rutgers University’s Web site shows a 54-46 percent break with females leading.

    BYU, as many other private and public schools, professes to be gender-blind during the admissions process. Keeping a balance is secondary when it comes to looking at a potential student’s qualifications.

    “We don’t try to keep a gender balance; it’s impossible to keep a balance,” said Ford Stevenson, dean of Student Academic and Advisement Services.

    Instead, the university focuses on a three-part approach that examines high school GPA, ACT scores and extracurricular activities. Using this system, the admissions office said it is seeing a growing disparity in the direction of females.

    Stevenson stressed that BYU is not alone in this trend; it extends to colleges and universities nationwide. The question is why girls are doing this now and where the boys are going.

    “Females have become more motivated about college,” Stevenson said. “Girls are getting more serious about school.”

    Stevenson noticed from the young males in his own family that not all view attending college as a necessary means to get a job with a comfortable income. They often turn toward more technical and labor-oriented jobs that still pay men a decent wage.

    “Some men would rather get the big pickup truck and get a paycheck from the mines or the lumber yard,” he said. “It’s a pain to go to school for four years.”

    Nan Theobald, admissions counselor at Provo High School, recalled an instance when she and her husband were building a cabin and a welder charged $50 an hour.

    “The construction industry goes so well around here,” Theobald said. “A fair amount go into that and are doing okay. The money’s out there. It’s a reality.”

    In addition to the incentive of picking up a paycheck right out of high school, some males opt out of college because the studious atmosphere doesn’t hold any interest for them, Theobald said. Many of her male students show more interest in technical training than lectures and exams.

    Theobald works with a local technology college to provide students with opportunities for advanced technical training. She says males are much more interested in the technical programs than females, who tend to choose more arts and social science classes. At Provo High, an advanced woods class has only three females out of 42 students while an advanced art history class has 32 females out of 40 students.

    Theobald suggested that this division in interests may lead females to look for a liberal arts or social sciences education, best achieved at the college level, while males prefer advanced training in technical areas that don’t require college and hold their interest more.

    She also said she believes interest and expectations about attending college start early.

    “It starts in elementary school when women are the role models of higher education students see,” Theobald said.

    This is hard to miss. At Barratt Elementary School in American Fork, only two teachers out of 25 are male and at Alpine Elementary School, there’s only three out of 30. From an early age, children associate women with higher education and learning patterns.

    Theobald said she believes problems also stem from mothers raising children alone, so there’s no male role model in the home. Across the nation, about one-third of households do not have the biological father present, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

    As the structure of the American family changes, more opportunities have opened in these children’s lifetime for women in the workforce. There has been a big push for women to advance in education, so there’s been programs tailored to women, not men, according to Jared Ferguson, Provo High’s work experience and internship coordinator.

    “Society puts men down, on TV, everywhere; men are seen as the stupid ones,” Ferguson said, citing a popular sitcom, “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

    Some men may wonder if college is necessary if they can succeed in technical jobs and make decent money doing it. While there’s no blanket answer for every person, the numbers tell the story as far as income goes.

    The average salary for an electrician in Utah is about $38,000 a year and $32,000 a year for auto mechanics, according to While this is less than the average college grad, it’s a lot of money for someone fresh out of high school. The difference is that college grads start higher and tend to increase longer, while a laborer caps out after five to 10 years.

    CNN Money reports the average 2005 college graduate in accounting started at about $44,000 and a business major could expect to start at about $40,000. Over an average male’s lifetime, a bachelor’s degree adds about $1.3 million to a lifetime income compared to the income of a male high school graduate, according to the Census Bureau.

    Different learning styles can also deter men from entering colleges and universities.

    “We apparently have perfected an instructional approach that works very well for most women,” said Tom Mortenson, a higher education policy analyst out of Washington, D.C. “The question in my mind is, ‘Why haven’t we tried to do the same for males?'”

    Mortenson said the fact that men and women learn differently is a given and should require different pedagogical approaches. Males tend to be right-brain dominated so they do well in math and science, according to the Council for Exceptional Children. They also are more deductive and do better at multiple-choice tests, such as the ACT. Females are left-brain dominated making them excel in verbal skills such as reading or writing. Because they are more inductive, females tend to do better at essay tests. Brain research shows that female brains adjust better to the structure of American schools, which are an unnatural fit for many males.

    This can translate into problems at the university level. Gary Daynes, associate director of BYU’s Freshman Academy, said male applicants have higher ACT scores on average, but are less engaged in active learning.

    “Young men develop habits to do well on tests, but have not developed learning skills at a university,” Daynes said.

    Daynes said men respond to challenges in a university setting differently. They are less likely to go to a lab or seek help outside of class and are more likely to withdraw and live in what Daynes calls the “male dorm atmosphere” where students stop attending class and engage in video and computer games, less face-to-face contact. Men are less likely to enjoy or participate in study groups or group activities. These habits make them at higher risk for not attending college, dropping out, or not doing well, Daynes said.

    Daynes also said the way the school system teaches discourages male students. Often, group work is encouraged, which is more suited for female students. Male students often do better in quantitative work.

    If the current trend continues, gender imbalance at private and public schools across the nation will continue to rise. This can be taxing for freshman students, especially females.

    “There’s not as good of a selection of boys to date,” said Heidi Carmack, a freshman from Santa Clara, Calif. living in Deseret Towers. “I don’t see boys as much as girls at the dorms, and I don’t think there’s as much dating going on between freshman.”

    But all freshman women need not despair about the lack of potential dates their age. The numbers, at least at BYU, even out a little after freshman year.

    BYU’s freshman class is skewed toward the female side partially because of what Daynes calls the “mission factor.” Many males are only focused on what comes after their mission; some take a year off, then apply to college after the mission when they are more mature and accustomed to living on their own, Daynes said.

    The reality of boys leaving on missions sets BYU apart from other universities and accounts for some of the trend.

    “Here at BYU we see a different type of phenomenon; that is males don’t apply because of going on missions, and they’ll stay home and work, or work and go to a junior college before their missions,” said admissions dean Ford Stevenson.

    Going on a mission often offsets the need to attend college or at least delays it for many males. This can make the freshman class at BYU heavily female, while the sophomore, junior and senior classes look more balanced.

    BYU has significantly more male transfers than female transfers as well. This helps balance the overall student ratio of males and females, which is about 50-50 for the entire university.

    To encourage more males to consider higher education at a college or university, experts suggest society start long before males ever set foot in a campus lecture hall. The Council for Exceptional Children suggests allowing males more space and movement in their learning during early education instead of keeping them cooped up at a desk all day and be aware of their social and emotional needs, instead of being quick to confuse a high level of activity with ADHD.

    For university-age students, admissions counselors suggest increasing the amount of technical-type programs available on campus or helping men understand the importance of higher education before and after their mission.

    For Jylare Johnson and her cousin Riley Orgill, college may become one more way they are alike. Johnson will finish college in a year and a half, and Orgill is seriously considering giving up his full-time job and enrolling in college in the fall. Lack of room for growth and opportunities led him to reexamine his decision to give up college.

    “College is hard, but education is important to me and that may be hard to see now,” Orgill said. “But in the long run, it pays off.”

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