Unraveling the Achievement Gap on Campus

For the first time ever, women outnumber men at all levels of higher education. More women than men apply, enroll, and graduate with bachelor’s and advanced degrees. The response from feminist groups has been drearily predictable.

Female enrollment at some schools approaches 60 percent, a gap of 10 percent in favor of women. A growing number of colleges use some form of affirmative action to level out the male-female ratio. Instead of applauding such action, feminist critics charge that such policies force girls to work harder than boys for the same spots. The United States Commission on Civil Rights is now investigating whether colleges are discriminating against girls in their attempts to boost male enrollment.

Male and female college enrollees actually reached parity in 1982, and women have climbed ahead steadily ever since. As Christina Hoff Sommers documented in The War Against Boys, feminist groups have been pushing an anti-male bias in the public school system for 20 years. Beginning with a 1992 American Association of University Women (AAUW) report titled “How Schools are Shortchanging Girls” and a slew of books such as Reviving Ophelia, feministsargued that systemic discrimination in the nation’s school system put young girls at a severe disadvantage.

Sommers criticizes the highly suspect research behind the “disadvantaged schoolgirl” theory, which became popular just as girls were passing boys in nearly every academic endeavor. Indeed, there is no statistical evidence to support the idea that girls were languishing, neglected, or even “losing their voice” in school. Nevertheless, activists ushered in Title IX and overhauled curriculum in the hopes of engaging America’s disadvantaged girls. In 1994, Congress labeled girls an “underserved population” and passed the Gender Equity in Education Act, which made billions of federal dollars available for the study and improvement of female academic achievement.

Meanwhile, as the scales tipped to favor women, jobs in male-dominated industries such as agriculture, mining, forestry, and manufacturing declined sharply. These jobs were once abundant, and enabled high-school graduates to support families. As these jobs have dried up, men without college degrees have watched their economic prospects dwindle.

The Great Recession has made matters worse. A full 80 percent of jobs lost in the first 18 months of this downturn were held by men, many of whom worked in the construction industry. Female-dominated industries such as education and healthcare remain relatively robust.

As a result of this new economy, men need college degrees more than ever. The media, unfortunately, give little attention to this problem. Instead, the preference is clearly for stories illustrating how the achievement gap hurts women.

For example, “The New Math on Campus” in the New York Times highlighted a new chapter in the saga of the disadvantaged American woman. Apparently it’s really hard for girls to get dates on a campus that is 60 percent female. “Women on gender-imbalanced campuses are paying a social price for success and, to a degree, are being victimized by men precisely because they have outperformed them,” explains psychology professor W. Keith Campbell. It seems to have escaped notice that educated men may be valuable for reasons other than to date educated women.

Will activist groups rise up to denounce the achievement gap, in the same way that they have railed against all other statistical disparities between the sexes? So far, the war against men rages on. Title IX, which has stripped popular men’s athletic programs from many campuses, will now be unleashed on science, math, and engineering departments. These departments still attract large numbers of male applicants, and therefore must be brought to the bar of gender justice.

Women’s academic accomplishments in the last 30 years are cause for celebration. Yet, feminists see only more discrimination against women, to be remedied by yet more government action. In these circles, even when women have the advantage it turns out to be a disadvantage.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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