Opinion: Don’t blame feminists for low male enrollment

New studies show lower male enrollment in universities, which can be attributed to anti-college rhetoric directed toward young men.

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Ryan Walker

NYU’s student demographics by gender is 43% male to 57% female. Despite claims to the contrary, college enrollment for males is not increasing because of anti-male rhetoric. (Staff Photo by Ryan Walker)

By Batoul Saleh, Staff Writer

Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported on this year’s National Student Clearinghouse study, which revealed data regarding the decline of male enrollment in universities. The most apparent data points showed that men account for more than three-fourths of pandemic-driven dropouts. Overall, U.S. colleges and universities reported 1.5 million fewer students than they did five years ago, with men accounting for 71% of the decline. NYU reflects this general trend, maintaining a ratio of 57% female to 43% male as of fall 2020. 

This recent development has been interpreted in a number of ways. Professor Richard Vedder of Ohio University suggested that the decrease in enrollment is because “young men increasingly feel colleges don’t want them” since “professors and student activists rant about ‘white male privilege.’” The Wall Street Journal also theorized that efforts to reduce sexual assault and harassment of women on campus is a notable part of this pattern. 

Arguments like these imply that universities are to blame for the low rates of male attendance due to some liberal feminist agenda they promote. In reality, the next generation of boys are not victims of any anti-male conspiracy by a group of pantsuit-wearing collegiate feminists. They are instead victims of the same patriarchy that oppresses women and tells boys not to cry. 

There is an entire subculture of the internet targeted towards young men that tells them that college is useless and to instead opt for trade schools, business ventures, and to invest money in stocks and bonds — but not in college. They are reminded constantly that their favorite tech tycoons and privileged white men — Bill Gates, Jack Dorsey, Steve Jobs — did not finish college, so why should they? There are influencers like Gary Vaynerchuck, with millions of fans, who consider college to be a waste of money. 

Much of this rhetoric is rooted in so-called hustle culture, the myopic belief that one can always work harder and longer and that relaxing is unproductive and not worthwhile. However, a significant role is played by toxic masculinity and its dogma of self-sufficiency claiming that that reliance upon anything besides oneself, even college, is a deficiency in character. 

While college should be presented as an option — it certainly is not for everyone — anti-college messaging towards boys, especially young boys of lower socioeconomic status, is convincing a generation of people to indulge in “the lure of the immediate payoff of a job” which “keep[s] young men focused elsewhere,” as USA Today put it. An undergrad at University of Iceland also added that “you have some teachers and counselors in rural and urban environments discouraging young men from going on to higher education — ‘You’re not college material, you should just go work.’” 

In reality, educated men are a valuable addition to the job force that colleges should continue to seek out, especially in disproportionately female-dominated fields like teaching. NYC Men Teach, for example, is a city program that primarily recruits men of color to become teachers in New York City by providing career support, mentoring and networking services. Additionally, the City University of New York’s Black Male Initiative is a university-wide program to increase enrollment and graduation rates of men of color. These celebrated and expanded efforts definitely do not suggest the “scant campus support for spending resources to boost male attendance and retention” that the Wall Street Journal claims to exist.

Contact Batoul Saleh at [email protected]