Fewer White Men Are Going To College

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It may be a culture shock, but white males are a minority, and it’s a major issue – apparently. A new study by The Wallstreet Journal discovered that fewer white males, regardless of social class, are not attending higher education in the United States. In 2020, colleges enrolled 1.5million fewer students compared to 2015 (71% are men). As a result, the gender gap of college attendees is growing at an expediential rate. College education is highly valued in society in the US as many strive to have that key college name on their resume. However, it comes with a heavy price – literally. The average tuition fee for a single year ranges from $10,338 (public, in-state) to $38,185 (private). That’s either a nice car or a house deposit in the UK. As men become uninterested in gaining college degrees, what does this mean for the education landscape and why are they going against the grain? Whilst many are reporting on this as a crisis, is that the case or are they just scare mongering? 

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So, how wide is the college gender gap? Reported by the National Student Clearinghouse, their enrolment data showed that 59.5 per cent of applications were from women, whilst men accounted for 40.5 per cent. To put these figures into perspective, in 2020 3.8million women enrolled compared to 2.8 million men. This compares to the 1970s where men accounted for 58.7 per cent and women 41.3 per cent – a complete role reversal. The executive director of National Student Clearinghouse, Douglas Shapiro believes that if this trend continues, in the next few years we’ll see two women earning college degrees for every man.

But is this a trend set to continue? Or is it a blip due to the pandemic? It has been reported that the pandemic has accelerated the trend, but as fewer males attend higher education, is American society just not accepting changing perspectives towards college education or does the trend have wider implications? The enrolment rates for white men, specifically from poor, working-class backgrounds have significantly declined to the point where they are lower than that of Black, Latino and Asian men from the same background (reported by The Pell Institute for the Journal). Many are commenting on this ‘issue’ as a ‘major crises’; I can’t help but think that there is an element of racial bias in these new statistics. Since the data was revealed, many are vocalising their concerns over a lack of support to encourage men to join these institutions and also talking about how school systems aren’t built for men. But where was this for the other minorities previously mentioned? To my knowledge there was never an outward cry to entice such men into higher education. But once white males are a minority (somehow) it’s all panic stations and how can we resolve this!

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White males are largely privileged, but they now seem to have found a way to play the victim as a minority in college admissions. Although it appears to be the older generation who raise concern about this, not the college age demographic.  A visible trend that has sparked debate, why is this demographic avoiding the traditional route of college? There are a range of reasons why fewer white males are attending colleges, from the complex to the ordinary. One reason is that they don’t know what they want to do – which is fair enough. At the age of 18 you’re supposed to know what you want to do for the rest of your life and spend tens of thousands of dollars on that education? Whether it’s delaying higher education or not going at all, white men are choosing to discover themselves and what they want to do, before committing to 2-4 years of expensive education.

This also leads onto the idea that they don’t see enough value in a college degree which requires lots of energy and expenses. A college education for some isn’t as enticing as it once was, which has led to many looking for different avenues of gaining experience, education and money.  It’s worth addressing the idea that men leaving school have more work opportunities available, such as manual labour, compared to females. The sheer price of higher education in the US has discouraged many from going through with it. Marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, Scott Galloway states “The products [universities] become more expensive and it’s not any better…At our elite universities, we’re so drunk on luxury we haven’t expanded enrolments”.

Whilst these reasons contribute to the decision of not attending higher education, there are many more notable reasons. One is the lack of guidance they may get for completing college submissions. Some may not have the support or resources to apply for higher education, which places them at a disadvantage to those who may have had previous family members attend higher education who have experience of the process. Furthermore, many schools lack funding for support services to assist applicants.

During 2020, due to the pandemic, many students began their college education online. Many saw this as a waste of their money which led to men dropping out – a trend that is commonly greater in men in general. An increase in dropout rates for men is also due to family finance issues many experience. Looking to assist their families financially, many young men leave school to work and help their family.


Young white men are put off joining higher education, but what impact does the education system have on this choice made by many? One factor is the idea that the school environment isn’t suited to young men; believing that they are more fidgety and unable to sit still and focus in class, compared to their female counterparts. My issue with this is that society uses this as an excuse for males, when they are more than capable of sitting still.  Women were taught to sit nicely and not speak, whereas men had the freedom to do as they please. I think this ‘reason’ only reflects the different expectations in society on men and women.

The perceived tendencies of boys to be easily distracted links to them engaging in more distracting hobbies and activitiessuch as “videogames, pornography, increased fatherlessness, cases of overdiagnosis of boyhood restlessness and related medications”, something believed by many social science researchers. However, some evidence suggests that the participation in hobbies such as videogames has encouraged men to enter education once again. Manager of the men’s Resource Center at Lakeland Community College in Ohio, Jim Shelley states he has had students explain why they went back to school as because “All [they] do is play video games and hang out with friends. [They want] to do something with [their] life”.

But what role do our educational institutions play, adding to the cause for the decline in admissions by white males? A common theme within schools is that there are no programs to support male students. Whilst some quietly attempt programs that work towards enrolling more men, these do not seem to be doing the job. “We do not see male applicants being less competitive than female applicants…but fewer men apply” states UCLA Vice Provost, Youlonda Copeland-Morgan.

In addition to school, college culture and campuses have affected their views of college. Jim Shelley explains “I’ve had male students tell me that their first week in college, they were made to feel like potential rapists”. An unwelcoming yet real issue of sexual assault across campuses, is this crisis having a detrimental impact on the college experience for men, resulting in the avoidance of attending higher education? But let’s bring this back into the real world; are we really going to place college admission statistics against the crisis of rape culture which runs throughout campus culture? I think it’s important to note that we know all men do not participate in this behaviour, but the ones that do ruin it all for everyone else, both men and women, and these are the precautions people are going to take to keep themselves safe.

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A trend that is set to stick and possibly increase, what does this mean for the educational landscape over the next decade? With the rise of women dominating the classrooms, we’re set to see more “females who are significantly more literate, significantly more educated than their male counterparts…it is likely to create a lot of social problems” states author and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Christina Hoff Sommers. However, this new trend is pointing out the disadvantages experienced by females as columnist Ellen Goodman says, “educated women have always made some people nervous”. The whole idea of society being in disarray just because men aren’t going to college is ridiculous. This points out another inequality because where was this reporting when there were less females attending higher education? It seems news outlets and society are trained to produce an outcry for inequality when something effects the white male.

According to some, the effects of white men not attending college are detrimental to society as Susan L Traiman, director of the Business Roundtable’s education initiative states “As a nation, we simply can’t afford to have half of our population not developing the skill sets that we are going to need to go into the future”. However, who’s to say that men aren’t developing the skills, but by different means? Another example of the weight American society places on college education perhaps?

Scott Galloway sees this trend becoming a ‘mating crisis’ within the US as female college graduates aren’t interested in men without degrees. And with fewer men attending college, it will widen the issue. But why is this an issue? If women value a man with a college education, maybe they’ll just go for ethnic men with college degrees. 

It seems out of all the reasons why this is an issue, the problem actually lies within societies views of college education within the US. I think colleges may be worried as they don’t know how to approach this changing landscape and they like the hold they have on young adults and the idea of a higher education as a must. People are trying to scare monger young men by adding other societal pressures such as marriage and work life success to keep society the way it’s been for decades – but that’s not the case anymore.

This article was written by contributing writer Malin Jones. 

To check out Malin’s bio click here. 

Malin’s other posts – 

The Side Hustle | The New Norm

The Race To Tour Space | Going Where Others Have Gone Before 

A Heated Olympics | The Inclusion Of Transgender Women

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Sue Dhillon is an Indian American writer, journalist, and trainer.

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