How colleges can balance their gender parity without relying on ‘affirmative action for men’

"If we wait until college to intervene, it’s too late,” says Thomas Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.

It’s a safe bet that there are more women on your campus than men. With women peaking past men in college enrollment by the 1980s, this isn’t breaking news. But what’s concerning is the fact that this trend isn’t slowing down. For every six women on campus today, there are roughly four men. As higher education lost 1.5 million students between 2016 and 2021, men accounted for 70% of the exodus, The Atlantic reports.

Colleges have tried several different eyebrow-raising strategies to keep their women-to-men student ratios from ballooning out of proportion, often dubbed “affirmative action for men” within institutions. It’s an apt label when one considers how women generally have stronger applications due to their higher volunteer experience, stronger ACT scores and a higher likelihood of being in the top 10% of their graduating class.

“There was definitely a thumb on the scale to get boys,” said Sourav Guha, assistant dean of admissions at Wesleyan University from 2001 to 2004, according to The New York Times. “We were just a little more forgiving and lenient when they were boys than when they were girls. You’d be like, ‘I’m kind of on the fence about this one, but—we need boys.’”

Admissions offices do have a strong incentive to take that tack. Institutions that demonstrate gender parity are more likely to enroll more students, receive donor support and even maintain academic integrity, according to The Times.

With men showing a higher likelihood of stopping out of college and opting to take unskilled jobs right out of high school, colleges and universities must find ways to incentivize men to enroll—without solely relying on admissions offices.

“If we wait until college to intervene, it’s too late,” says Thomas Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.


Highlighting your institution’s athletic offerings is a viable way to catch men’s attention, but Title IX bylaws prevent colleges from creating athletic programs solely for males on the grounds of sexual discrimination. E-sports is a great way to circumvent this legal roadblock.

Leagues focused on gaming are gender-neutral, cost-effective and feature a robust accredited league to play competitively. But according to the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE), only 8% of college e-sports players are women.

This allows institutions to market a fun extracurricular activity to both sexes while still attracting a considerable number of men.

Communicate student outcomes better to men

Young men graduating from college are disproportionately distracted by job opportunities right out of college in construction and technology because those fields do not all require a degree and provide an immediate financial incentive. However, such jobs rarely have a high ceiling, and 10 years down the road, men can find themselves in a tough spot, earning lower incomes than their peers.

The National Center for Educational Statistics found that the median earnings for bachelor’s degree holders, 25- to 34-year-olds who worked full-time, year-round, were 55 percent higher than those who completed high school ($39,700).

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, his beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene, and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador, and Brazil.

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