Why the Male Population is Spiking at Community Colleges

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Why the Male Population is Spiking at Community Colleges
Learn about the changing tide in male enrollment at community colleges, as well as the catalysts behind the increase in men on campus.

Although women were at one time excluded from many institutions of secondary education, in recent years, they have established themselves as a majority presence on two-year and four-year college campuses. According to a December 2009 Washington Post report, women make up 60% of higher education students nationwide, primarily because men are more likely to drop out of school, join the military, or go to prison.

However, the tide may be beginning to shift at community colleges, where male enrollment has been on the increase. Inside Higher Ed reports that for the first time in years, community colleges have experienced enrollment of male students either equal to or above their enrollment of female students.

A Spike in Male Students

Randolph Community College, in North Carolina, experienced an increase of 68% in first-time full-time male enrollment from Fall 2008 to Fall 2009, bringing the current male population at the community college up to 37%. Meanwhile, in Washington State, Lower Columbia College noted that full-time male student enrollment was 36% higher in Fall 2009 than it had been in Fall 2008.

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Inside Higher Ed reports that Kent Phillipe, the director of research at the American Association of Community College, notes that the group’s recent studies show that the number of male students at community colleges has grown from 41.7 percent of the total two-year college population in Fall 2007 to 42.9 percent in Fall 2009. Although the number of female students enrolling in two-year colleges has also risen during the same two-year period, “the growth [in enrollment] is slightly bigger for males, proportionally, than for females,” says Phillipe.

What is Behind the Surge in Male Enrollment?

Commentators and experts have developed several possible theories to explain the recent rise in male enrollment in community colleges:

The economic downturn is hurting men disproportionately

Nearly 75% of the approximately 7 million people who have lost their jobs in the current recession are men, according to a November 2009 MSNBC.com report. A large number of the lost jobs have been in industries involving manual labor – such as timber, construction, shipping, trucking, and automobile manufacturing – which traditionally employ more men than women.

With men suffering a higher rate of unemployment than women, the stage would be set for more men to return to school to earn additional degrees or certifications.

The president of Virginia’s Tidewater Community College, which saw a 16 percent increase in male student enrollment in Fall 2009 as compared to Fall 2008, told Inside Higher Ed, “I think that there is no way to separate what we’re looking at here from the realities of the economy. This is clearly the reversal of a trend we’ve seen for years.”

Recession Causing Men to Value Education More Highly

Karen Ritter, director of planning and assessment at Randolph Community College, offers another possible explanation to Inside Higher Ed. Because males are now finding it harder to find jobs, they are starting to value education more than they have in the past. “Simply being male no longer gives them a leg up in the job market!” she says.

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New GI Bill

Lisa Kleiman, director of institutional effectiveness at Tidewater Community College, believes that the increase in male student enrollment in her college can be partially attributed to the new GI bill, which is aimed at helping servicemen and servicewomen return to college. Because Tidewater Community College is in a community that is home to a large number of active-duty and retired military personnel, the college would naturally be a magnet for those who choose to take advantage of the new GI bill to further their educations. In fact, 62 percent of the students who received assistance from the GI bill to attend Tidewater in Fall 2009 were male – a striking number when contrasted with the proportion of males in the total population, which is 39 percent.

Efforts aimed at attracting male students

Some colleges have specifically focused their efforts on potential male students, seeking to boost their male student population by adding and enhancing programs in which males tend to enroll. For example, Randolph Community College officials believe some of the surges in male enrollment may be due to their recent unveiling of a new training center for the college’s automotive systems technology and auto body repair programs.

Females Still Outnumber Males

Despite the trends that are being observed at individual colleges and at a national level, females still make up a distinct majority of the community college population. Subsequently, community colleges will likely continue their efforts to recruit male students in order to work towards a population that more accurately reflects the larger community.

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