John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Where are the Men? Not Dealing with the Male Problem!

It seems to me that for the past several decades I have become so accepting of this campus demographic characteristic that I often don’t even notice any more. Where are the men?

Recently, as I was starting my late summer vacation on September 2, and setting aside my efforts to keep up with my blog for several weeks, I happened to glance (which I rarely do) at USA Today. And in the “Money” section, page one, below the fold, was the feature story “Single Women Out-Earn Single Men in Metro Areas.”

The article went on to report ten major metropolitan areas where the percentage by which median full-time wages for single, childless women, ages 22-30, exceeds those of single childless men in the same age group—and these percentages ranged from a low of 12% to 21%. The cities cited were: Atlanta, Memphis, New York, Sacramento, San Diego, Miami, Charlotte, Raleigh Durham, Los Angeles and Phoenix. So what was the big explanatory variable? No question, by far, the amount of education completed.

This was not “news” for me. It was simply confirmatory of the patterns I have been observing for decades on my own campus and almost every one I ever visit.

Who is more likely to go to college?
Be retained in college?
Graduate from college?
Assume leadership of student organizations?
Volunteer to serve other students and community members?
Take advantage of opportunities for extra credit, initiative, etc?
Who is less likely to vandalize institutional property, drink excessively, or sexually assault another student?

On a campus visit I made almost twenty years ago in a focus group of campus leaders, all volunteers, and almost totally devoid of men, I asked “And where are the men?” One female student responded: “Sex, sports and booze, that’s where they are!”

And then I think: well, who runs the majority of campuses anyway? Still men. Surely they see what I see. So why don’t they do anything.

Perhaps they are afraid of their feminist colleagues who, like my smart and very fair wife, Betsy Barefoot, have little sympathy for these men who aren’t making it and who rightfully ask why we should have such sympathy for men when they still run the country and had the same opportunities, actually greater opportunities than the women.

But this issue of less functional men surely has to be difficult for us men to want to recognize, accept as a significant and harmful trend, and attempt to respond to in some concrete manner. Occasionally, I do hear of institutions that have launched “male initiatives.” And I have visited a few, such as Medgar Evers College and Hobart and Williams Smith Colleges. But they are still a rare minority.

I know I have this habit, as do all bloggers, of raising very profound subjects in a medium in which it is impossible to do them justice. Clearly this is one.

In conclusion, this non scholarly report, was just the latest clue that has registered with me that we really do have a problem here. The “retention problem” on which I have spent so much of my career energy is really a male problem, and not the kind for urological treatment.

I am going to keep trumpeting this male problem. Please join me.

-John N. Gardner

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