Historically speaking, there has always been a gender gap in higher education, with young men being more likely to attend college than their female counterparts. According to a recent study from the Institute of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, however, women are now more likely to advance to universities than men. In 2015, 72.5 percent of female high school graduates enrolled in a two- or four-year college soon after graduation, while only around 65.8 percent of male students did the same. In comparison, 57.6 percent of males graduating high school attended college afterward, compared to 47.2 percent of females in 1967.
While these figures encompass all socioeconomic classes, the study found that one of the most noticeable gender gaps is in low-income and minority families, in which girls are more likely to attend college than their brothers, according to an article from The Atlantic. While efforts have been taken to encourage females to obtain a higher education, males from low-income families have been left behind due to several factors which must be more properly addressed if our education system wishes to maximize every students’ chances of attending college.
The gender gap is largely due to the different social expectations for young girls and boys. According to Ohio State University sociology professor Claudia Buchmann, boys are generally expected to be more masculine and outgoing, and strong academic performance typically has not fallen under the description of what is masculine. Instead, they are expected to engage in more social activities such as athletics. Buchmann also notes that boys who participate in activities that are not typically labeled masculine, such as music, dance and art also tend to do better in school, presumably because they are willing to put the effort in despite social norms. Girls, on the other hand, are expected to focus on their studies more.
In addition, parents in many low-income families work jobs that might not require a higher degree, so there is little encouragement for young students to see the necessity of putting effort into their academic studies to attend college and get a degree. Due to the historical lack of female attendance in colleges and universities, there has recently been a great deal of effort to increase programs that encourage females to pursue higher degrees and obtain the skillsets necessary to work in male-dominated fields, which, for a long time, included higher education. Because of the continued economic and industrial gender gap, these programs must continue, but young men must not be left behind.
Young male students do not need programs and support to tell them that they too can attend college strictly because they are male, as the programs for female students do. But they still need someone to encourage them and remind them that they too can attend college because they have so much potential. Just like all students, they need to be guided and reminded that a college degree is in reach if they put in the effort during elementary, middle and high school.
This starts at the local level, with school districts and boards of education, which must institute programs to work with students to emphasize the importance of academics and start to break down the expectations that guide boys and girls down different predetermined paths in school. These programs should be open to all low-income and minority students, regardless of background and gender, so that the college attendance rate can be increased for all of these students.
After all, an even more pressing concern is the socioeconomic gap regarding higher education. For example, of the young women from higher socioeconomic backgrounds who graduated from American high schools in 2002, 70 percent had received bachelor’s degrees by 2013, compared to 17.6 percent of young women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. By providing more programs that openly encourage students to value academics, perhaps we can increase the chances of all low-income children, male and female alike to attend college.
Alex Oliveira is a staff columnist for the Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.