September 14, 2013

CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERS: How to Make School Better for Boys: Start by acknowledging that boys are languishing while girls are succeeding.

Women in the United States now earn 62 percent of associate’s degrees, 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees, 60 percent of master’s degrees, and 52 percent of doctorates. College admissions officers were at first baffled, then concerned, and finally panicked over the dearth of male applicants. If male enrollment falls to 40 percent or below, female students begin to flee. Officials at schools at or near the tipping point (American University, Boston University, Brandeis University, New York University, the University of Georgia, and the University of North Carolina, to name only a few) are helplessly watching as their campuses become like retirement villages, with a surfeit of women competing for a handful of surviving men. Henry Broaddus, dean of admissions at William and Mary, explains the new anxiety: “[W]omen who enroll … expect to see men on campus. It’s not the College of Mary and Mary; it’s the College of William and Mary.”

Boys in all ethnic groups and social classes are far less likely than their sisters to feel connected to school, to earn good grades, or to have high academic aspirations. A recent working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research documents a remarkable trend among high-achieving students: In the 1980s, nearly the same number of top male and female high school students said they planned to pursue a postgraduate degree (13 percent of boys and 15 percent of girls). By the 2000s, 27 percent of girls expressed that ambition, compared with 16 percent of boys. During the same period, the gap between girls and boys earning mostly A’s nearly doubled—from three to five percentage points.

This gap in education engagement has dire economic consequences for boys. . . . Young men in Great Britain, Australia, and Canada have also fallen behind. But in stark contrast to the United States, these countries are energetically, even desperately, looking for ways to help boys improve. Why? They view widespread male underachievement as a national threat: A country with too many languishing males risks losing its economic edge. So these nations have established dozens of boy-focused commissions, task forces, and working groups. Using evidence and not ideology as their guide, officials in these countries don’t hesitate to recommend sex-specific solutions.

Well, I’ve proposed a Title IX approach to make K-12 schools less hostile to boys. We might also want to revisit the way colleges have been turned into anti-male feminized environments.