Bringing back male students: strategic and tactical opportunities to regain gender balance in enrollment.

Author:Mahl, Aaron

Recent research studies have begun to recognize males as a new "at-risk" population. Achieving gender balance means different things to different institutions. Technical programs with STEM-heavy curricula have traditionally struggled to attract female enrollments (though women are fast making inroads into these fields).

Large public universities and smaller liberal arts colleges, on the other hand, are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain their male enrollments.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, women now outpace men in educational attainment for the first time since 1940. This finding is not surprising given the fact that female enrollment at U.S. colleges has been higher than male enrollment since 1979. The center projects that, by 2020, men will represent only 41 percent of college enrollees. Not only are fewer men attending postsecondary institutions, but a larger percentage of them are dropping out as well.

How can college and university leaders begin to shape their cohorts of entering students to achieve more gender balance in enrollment?

Calibrating goals to reality

For institutions struggling to attract males, reasonable goals should be considered. With a broad mix of academic and co-curricular programs, 45 percent to 50 percent male enrollment may be reached. However, for institutions that lack this diversity, 35 percent to 40 percent male enrollment may be an aspirational goal.

Colleges and universities must be proactive and intentional if they hope to overcome the demographic obstacles standing in the way of gender balance. Here's how.

Academic and co-curricular programs

When was the last time your institution audited its academic offerings? Examining yields by academic division and/or program over a five- to seven-year period may reveal programs where you've lost male market share.

What programs are attracting a higher number of male admits? Your institution's data will provide insight into how your programs are faring.

It is also important for institutional and academic leadership to consider their ability to attract a balanced gender representation to any future majors or programs that come online. STEM programs usually attract a higher percentage of males. Other programs that attract men include criminal justice, sport management and business.

Of course, before launching any academic program, conducting market research on expected returns and weighing those returns against the institution's enrollment goals...

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