Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Programs at Universities... for Men?
At every stage of postsecondary education, men are lagging behind women. Does something need to be done?
There are many problems associated with current US institutions of higher education. A good number have to do with the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) bureaucratic infrastructure that has infiltrated almost all areas of academia, distorting priorities, and infringing on academic freedom, merit-based hiring, and curricula for students.
In this midst of this current fixation, a deeper equity and inclusion issue has nevertheless been slowly brewing over the past two decades, but getting far less attention. Fewer and fewer young men are choosing higher education as an option. Each year the statistics get more dismal. Shown above are the numbers for the class of 2022, compiled by a group at the American Enterprise Institute who have been monitoring this trend across academia, and also in various different programs.
Averaging over all programs, young women are now over 35% more likely to obtain a bachelors degree than young men. And they are almost 20% more likely to get a doctorate.
Because AEI is viewed by many as a right wing think tank, one might be tempted to dismiss these figures. To check them, I went to the National Center for Educational Statistics. They didn’t have the 2022 data compiled by the AEI group, but they did have the 2018-2019 data, shown below, which is completely consistent with the figures shown above.
It is true that in many STEM disciplines, the disparities are reversed, and in some the scale of the disparity is significantly larger. This has been the focus of a great deal of attention by DEI bureaucrats in academia and, more generally, in scientific institutions and professional associations. As a result, a dedicated, and expensive effort nationwide has been devoted to trying to redress disparities, but only in STEM fields, where men currently dominate.
A plethora of special, female only study programs, scholarships, faculty appointments, and research opportunities have been created in the process. The claim that STEM in academia is systemically sexist—in spite of the lack of any direct evidence beyond the demographic data, and in spite the existence of counter-evidence like the fact that in societies with more gender equity, the STEM disparity is in some cases even larger, suggesting that the disparity has societal and psychological roots rather than being the result of specific academic policies or biases—has become a mantra that is now repeated over and over again by academic and scientific leaders throughout the country, and abroad.
Yet, little or no attention is paid to the deeper and more pervasive societal problem that young men are avoiding college in droves. The long term implications for the health of our society down the road are likely to be severe. A generation of under-educated young men will skew the workforce, and impact on job growth and creation, and the competitiveness of the US economy.
I am not a social psychologist, nor have I done detailed studies to assess the causes of this continuing social problem. I expect that there are a variety of factors, some coming from the treatment of young men in the educational system, and some due to broader societal factors.
To check different perspectives, I contacted a few academic colleagues to get their take on the issue. Here are some responses:
“Men have yet to have their liberation movement that women began in the sixties and seventies. Until that happens, men will suffer from outdated narratives of masculinity that include extreme loneliness that serves them poorly in the competitive and social milieu of college…the recent success of women in academia is without question, but we have left our boys and young men to stagnate in a culture that rewards mediocrity. It is time to retool them.”
“How do college administrators and faculty discourage men from attending college? There are multiple mechanisms. Girls get preferential treatment in classrooms by their teachers, especially in math and science. There are many programs, both in high school and college, to boost young women in their academic pursuits,including scholarships that exclude males explicitly. Also, there are numerous awards just for women, but virtually none exclusively for men.”
“More than 95% of the harsh punishments for supposed transgressions of Title IX or DEI rules are issued to men - treating them as pariahs and forcing them out of academic life forever. The gender bias of DEI and Title IX punishment is at least 20-to-1 against men. Unconsciously, as well as consciously, men realize that going to college is dangerous.”
One colleague who has publicly voiced his concerns about these issues for some time argued, somewhat fatalistically: “Girls will play boy games and it's not clear that boys will play girl games, and "education" has become a girl game, except for STEM, so far. Add to that the fact that male ambition is demonized from K-12 and you have the current situation.”
At least one colleague felt that the problem was far broader than academia, and that men might be making the right choice: “There is state-sanctioned discrimination against (white and Asian) men at every level of life, not simply in higher education. One would expect that groups that are discriminated against will be under represented. That said, higher education is becoming so worthless that men may be making the right choice in avoiding it.”
Finally, in a related vein, another colleague pointed out that fields like welding, electrical work, plumbing, and construction don’t require post-secondary education, and yet can provide job satisfaction and good wages, and these attract many men (and not so many women), especially in rural areas.
Whatever the causes, and whether or not they lie within academia or outside of it, it is important to address these educational issues, not just to benefit young men, but also society at large. What can be done to combat this growing trend?
First, we have to openly recognize that many signs point to a systemic gender bias in favor of females in academia. Any real interest in fostering ‘Equity’ at universities cannot easily ignore this fact.
Next, while there is little evidence that the host of diversity programs throughout academia generally succeed in their goals (there are a few notable exceptions, but these exceptions probably prove the rule), perhaps it is time to try experimenting with new scholarship programs for young men, or with remedial training and mentoring programs at Universities, and in high schools as well. Programs that openly celebrate young men and encourage them to see academic surroundings as a good fit for their masculinity might be called for.
There are probably a host of smart ideas that intelligent and experienced people who seriously consider this problem can come up with. But we first have to openly recognize that it is a problem. If nothing is done, and the trend continues as it has over the past decade or two, the next generation may be paying for the current inequity for years to come.