Men in Hodges University Classroom

Mystery Men: The Gender Gap Between Men and Women in Higher Education

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Updated Sept. 13, 2018

College campuses have seen many changes over the years. Not only are there variations in learning styles and shifts in academic programming to meet workforce demands, but the growing gender gap between male and female students proves that higher education is a continuously evolving entity.

Since 1979, the number of female students attending colleges and/or universities has exceeded those of male students. For years, the standard makeup of the household was that men went to work and women took care of the families.

During the second wave of feminism, women began to reevaluate their position within the family, many of whom stepped outside the confines of the home and entered the workforce.

Craig Heller, adjunct faculty member of interdisciplinary studies at Hodges University and expert in women’s studies, explained, “Women went to college to get an M.R.S. degree, that is the cliché, which started a change in the ‘70s with the second wave of feminism. Now, it has become, more women enter college, graduate and earn advanced degrees.”

Whatever the motivation may be for women, whether it is to make more money, accomplish something previous female generations could not, or to seek better opportunities, women are becoming the dominating population on college campuses.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 58 percent of females made up the total fall enrollment in degree-granting postsecondary institutions in 2017. In almost 40 years, this cultural shift in gender roles has seen more women stepping into the role of the family breadwinner or sharing an equal responsibility with their partner.

However, with the continued discussion of gender pay gap between men and women, Heller explains that in today’s society, the societal pressure is not just for women to succeed, but they must succeed “at home, be a good mom and be a good executive; you have to be everything now. There is still so much disrespect in society towards women that they will have to work twice as hard to accomplish half as much.”

In both fall 2016 and fall 2017, 62 percent of the student population at Hodges University was female. This includes both undergraduate, graduate and English as a Second Language (ESL) students.

“Many of the women we see are single mothers. They are now trying to be a role model to their children or their families for that matter, or their husbands are unable to make enough money to support the family, so they are saying, ‘I’m going to move forward and make money myself,’” said Erlis Abazi, director of admissions in Naples.

But what about the men?

If we take a more in-depth look at the psychological differences between men and women, Dr. Amber Pope, previous program chair at Hodges, explains that oftentimes socioeconomic status and differing types of labor can play a role in a man’s decision to enroll in college.

“The concept of masculinity is to be more aggressive or assertive, to be more of the protector and the one who provides the money for the family. For those with a lower socioeconomic status, the idea of going to college is not seen as a place where you are serving in a ‘masculine’ role,” she said. “You’re spending money to go and not bringing the money home.”

In addition, while many colleges and universities offer programming in the areas of health care and business-related fields, some men prefer to enter trade schools that require one to learn the skills but lack the necessity of a degree.

Man in PTA class at Hodges UniversityMen are finding that alternatives to school (i.e., trade school, military) take less time and cost less. However, while these alternatives may provide a “quick fix” or instant gratification when it comes to earning money, the benefits of a four-year degree are proving to be worth the time and effort in the long term.

“Men who start out making a lot of money in these trade jobs can’t justify going back to school and spending the money to maybe or maybe not make the same as they were making before. Obviously, as they get older, they backtrack and say, ‘my body can’t handle this trade job, so now I have to do something,’” explained Debbie Clark, admissions coordinator at Hodges.

For Hodges student Quentin Hyde, he always wanted to attend college, but he lacked the motivation and drive, which led him to enlist in the United States military.

Growing up in Atlanta, he admits to getting involved with the wrong crowd, which led to his family’s decision to move to Florida in 2004. After graduating high school in 2005 and associating with more positive people, he enlisted in the military in 2008, saying, “The military gave me a different outlook on life, but school wasn’t really there until I met my wife and everything changed.”

Thomas Runyon shares a similar story, only his original plan was to attend college and study neuroscience; however, joining the military was first on his list.

“I joined the military before I even graduated high school; I was only 17. My plan was to go to college after high school and go into neuroscience even back then,” he said. “Not long after graduating from basic training and advanced individual training (AIT), I went on my first deployment. When I got back, I went right into college. Some events happened, and I dropped out after only a year though.”

Injured while in the service, Runyon experienced difficulties in performing physical work and spent years building his experience just to qualify for desk positions. Inspired by his girlfriend and frustrated with the lack of viable jobs available to him, he returned to school.

“With the motivation to further my career, and endlessly inspired by her [his girlfriend], I knew my degree was inevitable,” he said.

For those returning to college, there is still some apprehension, especially when it comes to cost and value proposition. When meeting with husbands and wives to discuss pricing, Abazi explains, males seem much more cautious in making a decision while women view it as “we have the money in savings, why don’t we just use it.”

While cost and time may be factors in the decision-making process, the academic programming and outward appearance of colleges and universities are factors that play into a man’s decision to enroll.

As more universities work to align their academic programs with the demands of the workforce, some degree programs may attract more females than males and vice versa. However, Gail Sabo, program chair of interdisciplinary studies at Hodges, explains that with newer generations, the stigmas associated with certain career fields will begin to change, but for now, universities can “make men feel more welcome and show pictures of successful men in specific career fields (i.e., nursing), as well as women in technology, and I think we’re doing that here at Hodges.”