Newest campus minority: males

A story last week in USA Today highlighted the newest crisis in college enrollment: a steady decline in the proportion of males.

This decline has been going on since 1995. Some administrators fear if the trend continues, a college will not be able to attract first rate male and female applicants.

The latest figures I could find for Portland State show women outnumbering men by roughly nine women for every seven men.

Fisk University, a historically black college, has a freshman class that is 72 percent female. Howard university is now 63 percent female and Tuskegee 59 percent.

State and public schools mainly show less gender bias. University of Michigan at Ann Arbor splits an even 50-50, while at Cal-Berkeley the women have slipped into domination by 51 to 49 percent.

Technical schools such as MIT and Cal Poly still hold their male edge, but even they have slipped. MIT is 59 percent male, down five percent. Cal Poly has dropped three percent in the same period, with men making up 56 percent.

Liberal arts colleges are suffering. Dickenson College was already dominated by women in 1995 but today it is up to 60 percent female. Amherst still has 52 percent men to 48 percent women but it has lost ground by three percent.

College administrators, with their usual propensity to panic, have been scrubbing their minds in attempts to attract more men. A number have mounted vigorous recruiting programs. In the case of Merrimack College in Massachusetts, that involved reviving its moribund football team. Some have even considered applying affirmative action programs, a drastic solution most still reject.

Ivy league colleges like Harvard and Yale always have far more applicants than openings, so they are able to subtly adjust their gender balance of admissions. Even they, however, have seen the gender balance shift away from men, three percent at Harvard, two percent at Yale.

The reasons for this change puzzles administrators. They have theorized that the educational system is designed for the way females learn, an argument I can’t follow. Another theory is that more men are getting good-paying technology jobs right out of high school. If that’s case, our current dose of dotcom recession may well reverse some of that.

I think a far more realistic cure is for colleges to promote to men the idea that there is more of a choice of women at college now than there used to be. “Come to our college, guys. We’ve got women!”

In my early undergraduate years. I spent some time at a state school where the men outnumbered the women two to one. Getting a date with a really popular girl was a struggle.

For a big deal like a fraternity’s annual formal dance, you had to ask at least a month in advance and even then your chances of being too late or just plain turned down were all too likely.

In my experience, when women realize they are in short supply, they can become incredibly choosy about whom they are willing to consort with. And as for getting a little affection from these pampered darlings, forget it. They can be inclined to treat you like you’re some rampaging viking.

The USA Today story sees my solution already suggesting itself. It quotes a woman student at American University in Washington, D.C. complaining that it’s hard to get a date, and she adds, “I think the atmosphere might be different around campus if there were more guys.”

In the college years, the hormones may not be raging at the same frantic level they were in high school, but guys still like to think they have a chance at some of those women they consider real cuties. And when they do, they’d like to think there might be something more exciting than a good night peck on the cheek.

I’d like to be plain that I believe more women attending college is a great idea. Every woman today must have career skills. She needs the personal resources to survive economically if things turn bad.

It isn’t just the high divorce rate, although that alone can leave women stranded. Even the best of husbands can fall ill, suffer an accident or disability, or get laid off. One of the tragedies of the Great Depression of the 1930s was that almost all family units had one breadwinner, the husband. The wife stayed home and practiced mothering and domestic skills.

When the inevitable layoffs of husbands came, and they swept through Portland and Oregon like bubonic plague, the entire family was left without economic underpinnings.

So, women, keep coming to college. Men, recognize the college imbalance for what it can be: an improved opportunity to find that certain someone, or perhaps those several certain someones.