Data are data, and raw numbers tell the story of student enrollment at two- and four-year colleges across the U.S., including around Maricopa County and, more closely, in Glendale. Female students are coming in droves to campuses, and males are leaving.
Statistics provided by the Maricopa County Community College District show while Maricopa County had a 15% population increase between 2010 and 2020, female students county-wide have grown from 55.2% of enrollment in 2011-12 to 58.5% in 2020-21.
During the same 10-year span, male student enrollment dropped 63.3%. Glendale Community College is showing much the same, with female students having grown from 53.2% of enrollment to 57.7%, while male student enrollment is down 58.5% over the same time period.
Both trends follow national numbers.
For the 2020-21 academic year, women made up an all-time high of 59.5% of college students, while men trailed at 40.5%, according to enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, a nonprofit research group. U.S. institutions had 1.5 million fewer students compared with five years ago, and men accounted for 71% of that decline.
So what’s the deal?
“Too many factors to try to figure out as to why this is happening, right?” rhetorically asked Rico Moran, the student services coordinator at Glendale Community College. “But when we look at these studies, one of the things that we really don’t look at is the intrinsic factors. What is happening with the students individually inside, not the external factors.”
Moran gets to know the personal journeys of many male students face at GCC. He’s been active in the campus’ Male Empowerment Network since the program began in 2013 to serve as a mentorship for male students, and he has used past studies about declining male enrollment not only for his own master’s degree program but for academic proposals to reverse the trend on the Glendale campus.
Among the biggest factors he sees is male students opting to enter the workforce for financial obligations rather than pursue school, which could cut into their ability to make money not only for themselves but to help support their families. A number of male students he sees, particularly minority students, come from a low economic status, including receiving food stamps, so “they only understand poverty.”
“That student needs to become the breadwinner of the family, or needs to contribute in some way or form to the family financially,” Moran explained. “So education is not going to be at the top of his list.”
Student enrollment at colleges is overall in decline over the past year, much of which is certainly related to the pandemic.
In its spring 2021 report, National Student Clearinghouse cites a decline of 9.5% in community college enrollment from 2020, with “traditional” college-age students, ages 18 to 24, showing the sharpest decline across all age groups, at 5%. And nationwide the trend continues to reveal a steeper decline for men than for women across all sectors.
“This trend is especially visible in the community college sector,” the report states, “with male enrollment dropping by 14.4% compared to a 6% decline in female enrollment.”
The majority of GCC students are enrolled part-time, says Vice President of Student Affairs Monica Castaneda, who echoes Moran’s findings that male students are either working, caring for children, or caring for other adults in the home, which can compromise their academic careers.
“One main reason male enrollment continues to decline is because they are concerned with earning a wage,” she explained. “In some cases making a four-year commitment is also not feasible for young men who want to earn a wage instead. GCC however does an amazing job at providing certificates and two-year degrees so that male students are encouraged to commit to at least some level of education.”
The American Association of Community Colleges declined to comment on the trend.
Castaneda noted the differences in male and female college enrollment is hardly a new issue. She referenced that women had earned just 9.1% of bachelor’s degrees in 1970-71, which leapt to 50% of bachelor’s degrees by 2001-02.
“Beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, young women’s expectations of their future labor force participation changed radically,” she said. “Rather than follow in their mothers’ footsteps, they aimed to have careers, not just jobs.”
Moran says one way to reverse the trend among males is to focus on students before they even get to the college level, not only by increasing the role of M.E.N. on the Glendale campus but to reach out to the college’s feeder schools in the community as a way to connect with male students at a critical time in their academic pursuits.
“You need somebody at the high school level. You need somebody that looks like them, that sounds like them, that could potentially speak a different language to relate to them better,” he said. “If you have the student convinced that this is a program that is the next step for them, the next people to convince are their parents. If mom and dad can’t get in the same boat as the student and why the student needs to spend six hours a day at a school for the next four years then they’re gonna say ‘no.’”
Wading through enrollment studies is no match, he says, when it comes to reaching students themselves.
“I try not to limit myself to playing the numbers game,” he added. “I want the individual.”
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