Many Institutions Continue to Struggle With Gender Imbalance

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by Pearl Stewart

Campus“Hey, where are all the college guys?” inquired USA Today in 2001; “Gender imbalance in college applications: Does it lead to a preference for men in the admissions process?” asked the Economics of Education Review journal in 2005; and Shirley Wilcher, executive director of the American Association for Affirmative Action, proposed in Diverse in 2010 that “Affirmative Action May be Needed — for Men.”

Particularly, on historically Black campuses, the female-to-male ratio has been even greater.

In 2006, Roderick J. Harrison, a demographer with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, predicted that gender inequity in college enrollment would have serious consequences for African-Americans.

“Longer term, it means that in a period when women and African-Americans should expect expanding job opportunities, Black men will simply not be prepared to take advantage of them,” Harrison told Diverse in a 2006 article titled, “Grappling With the Gender Disparity Issue.”

An even louder alarm was sounded when annual statistics began to confirm what students and faculty were seeing in the classrooms.

Dr. Elwood Watson, professor of history and African American studies at East Tennessee State University, recalled that, in 2010, he was shocked to see that many of his classes were two-thirds female. “I was so surprised that I spoke to a few of my colleagues … they noticed identical situations in their classrooms and at their institutions as well,” Watson, a Diverse blogger, wrote at the time.

Today, Watson says he sees a slight leveling of the numbers, but state statistics show that the current composition of East Tennessee State’s 15,200 student population is 42.5 percent male and 57.5 percent female for full-time students, about the same as it was four years ago. At Tennessee’s major public HBCU, Tennessee State University, the disparity is greater: 35.7 percent male to 64.3 percent female. Th roughout the public universities in Tennessee, there are nearly 37,000 more women than men — 99,599 males or 42.2 percent compared to 136,370 women or 57.8 percent.

The Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics reports that 57 percent of students in degree-granting institutions are women. At the nation’s 104 historically Black institutions, 61.5 percent are female.

“It’s not a bad thing that our Black girls are doing well,” says Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, which supports public HBCUs. “In fact, it’s good for society and good for the country, but … we need to have our young men also doing well in order to have a healthy, vibrant Black community in the future.”

Imbalance improving

Numerous initiatives at various universities have been addressing the problem. At Tennessee State, Dr. William Latham, a former honors professor, co-founded The D.R.E.A.M. Project in 2008. “One of my students and I just looked around one day and said, ‘We’ve got to do something about the situation,”’ says Latham, who is now a senior advisor with the Gallup Education consultancy practice. Latham and his assistant took 20 to 25 male freshmen each year and provided mentoring, tutoring, leadership training and co-curricular activities throughout the students’ matriculation.

“It can’t just be pedagogy and rote theory,” Latham says. “The program has to be holistic and experiential in order to keep them engaged, so we had a very dynamic format combined with co-curricular experiences.”

Latham says the retention rate when he left in 2012 “was 100 percent — I don’t think we lost any of our students.” The D.R.E.A.M. Project is funded by private donations and the Tennessee State University Foundation.

In 2012, Southern University System President Ronald Mason established a comprehensive male enrichment project called The Five-Fifths Agenda for America to identify Black male students who are struggling academically, but who are deemed to have the potential to succeed. It includes a support system similar to Latham’s, but with national parameters. Southern received $1 million in state funds to launch the effort.

Other HBCUs are also finding ways to recruit and retain more male students. At Florida A&M, which, in fall 2013, had 61.5 percent female enrollment, Dr. William Hudson, vice president for student affairs, says the university “has made a concerted effort to increase enrollment of male students through community engagement with middle and high schools.” He says the school is using its existing initiatives such as the Federal TRIO programs and Upward Bound, which are open to males and females, to reach out to and assist male students who need support.

Hudson stresses that the young women who are succeeding are deserving of that success. “I believe academic preparedness and utilization of support services has a significant impact on student success … and from my personal experience, female students tend to seek assistance more often than their male counterparts.”

Southern University and A&M College senior Keyaira Franklin says she has noticed a change on the Baton Rouge, La., campus in the last year. “Don’t get me wrong, there are still so many more women than men, but I’ve started seeing more men in some of my mass [communication] classes and in the [cafeteria].”

Franklin is majoring in apparel merchandising with a minor in print journalism at Southern, where fall 2012 enrollment was almost two to one, with 4,207 women to 2,404 men. She says Ma son’s program “may be working.”

Franklin notes that the gender imbalance affects the social climate on college campuses. “The men can do whatever they want,” she says. “So, many women don’t date anybody on campus because you don’t know if he’s talking to Jill, Bill or Phil.”

Research supports her concern. A study of gender imbalance at HBCUs in the journal AIDS Care, in 2006, found that “primary consequences of this gender ratio imbalance were men having multiple female sexual partners during the same time period and women complying with men’s condom use preferences.” The study urged HIV preventive intervention programs at HBCUs to reduce women’s risk of infection.

National efforts

Taylor commends the efforts to increase male enrollment and retention, but he says more is needed at the national level. The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans joined the Morehouse Research Institute in February to sponsor the Black Male Summit, which focused on education reform. Taylor is calling for national sponsorship of a program such as Five-Fifths to specifically address Black male retention and graduation. Studies are showing a male-female disparity in Hispanic college enrollment, so Hispanic-serving institutions are also taking steps to counter the imbalance. The latest Census Bureau information states that Hispanics make up 19 percent of all college students ages 18-24, up from 12 percent in 2008. Still, in 2009, Latinas earned 61 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned by Hispanics.

Four years ago, California State, Long Beach announced its Men’s Success Initiative to boost male enrollment and to keep male students on track academically. California State, San Marcos held an educational leadership symposium last year to address the low attendance and graduation rates of young Latino men in college.

“Anecdotally, we’re seeing that there is a focus,” Taylor says. He suggests that the interventions need to start much earlier, in grades K- 8. “We’re trying to reverse the trend, and all sorts of initiatives were born with the idea of helping to reverse it, but there are not enough initiatives and not enough resources to really solve the problem.”

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One Response to Many Institutions Continue to Struggle With Gender Imbalance

  1. The reality is that African-American boys are doing poorly during their K-12 experience. Hence, there are a few capable of exceeding expectations in the university setting.

    G E Diego
    March 20, 2014 at 9:35 am

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