Nationally, it’s been described as a “male college crisis,” and Indiana isn’t immune to the trend. Male high school graduates attend college at much lower rates than females, and this gap continues to widen.
Indiana higher education officials describe it as “a concerning gap… This is the first time in recent history that the male college attendance rate has fallen below half (46%) “, in reference to the high school graduating class of 2020.
In contrast, the college attendance rate for Hoosier women in 2020 was 61%.
The report focused on the overall decline in college attendance, with only 53% of Indiana high school graduates going to college in 2020, a year-long drop described as “alarming” by Chris Lowery, Indiana’s new higher education commissioner.
The gender gap, one of the elements of the report, “got a lot of people’s attention,” Lowery said in an interview.
The commission is studying the data and possible reasons why fewer men are choosing college, defined as the full range of degrees beyond high school, including degrees of less than one year up to a four-year degree year.
Possible reasons include affordability issues and the perception that it’s too expensive, Lowery said. Some may not see the value of college or wonder if it has the career relevance it had in the past.
But when you look at economic data, including unemployment, labor force participation and wages, “quantitatively it pays off,” he said.
“There are clear economic benefits that come with higher levels of education. People with a bachelor’s degree or higher are more likely to be employed and participate in the workforce, and they have significantly higher salaries and higher overall net worth,” Lowery said.
The stakes are high both for the people concerned and for the state and the economy. Among those who don’t pursue post-secondary education, “that person’s prospects for lifelong economic and social mobility become more limited,” Lowery said.
That doesn’t mean someone can’t be successful, he said, “but statistically the prospects for social and economic mobility are diminishing,” he said.
The decline in male participation in college is also important to Indiana’s economy and the ability of employers to get the talent they need in a tight job market. “Indiana has a booming economy,” Lowery said, but declining male participation in post-secondary education is exacerbating the challenges and availability of this talent pool.
Among the organizations that have taken notice is the Indiana Chamber of Commerce.
The overall decline in college participation in Indiana, and among Hoosier men in particular, “is a cause for grave concern in an economy that strongly favors workers with education and training beyond high school” said Jason Bearce, state chamber vice president for education and workforce development. .
Today, companies are looking closely at state and metro education levels when deciding where to relocate or expand their businesses, “so we absolutely need to turn those numbers upside down to keep Indiana competitive,” he said. Bearce.
Searching for answers
Rachel Meyer, the Commission’s regional outreach coordinator for the western Indiana region, helps high school students prepare for college, including efforts to secure financial aid.
She spoke with male high school students who don’t plan on going to college. “I like the students in my region. They’re brutally honest, which I love,” she said. “They give a lot of great feedback.” Based on her discussions, she believes that one of the main reasons is that these students are unsure of what they want to do after high school and are reluctant to enter college without having a “final destination” in mind in terms of career.
The young men she speaks with also worry about the perceived cost of college. She’ll ask them to guess how much Indiana public college tuition is, and someone might throw away $200,000 for a year.
She will point out that the most expensive state public college tuition is just over $10,000 per year.
Other factors also come into play. Many students are in homestay, or they may be couch surfing or homeless. Their basic human needs are not being met, “so it doesn’t leave them much room to plan or dream when really they just want to know if they’re going to have dinner tonight”, a place to sleep or an opportunity to take a shower, Meyer said.
The challenge becomes, “How can we give them the aspiration to think about the future when the present is so urgent and they have a lot on their minds, a lot on their hearts,” Meyer said.
For those who have chosen not to pursue post-secondary education, she knows that many go into the military or the trades and can have “pretty lucrative careers.”
The commission continues to research why young men are not going to college and what they are doing instead.
In a November 2021 article for Inside Higher Education, Angela Baldasare wrote: “While the exact causes of this trendline are difficult to pinpoint, pressures on men to work and provide are commonly cited, as are climates and non-male-friendly campus services, heightened uncertainty during the pandemic, negative impacts of the pandemic on career choices, refusal to take online courses, and lack of internet access and/or of technology.
Insight into Diversity, in a March 16 online post, suggests that the pandemic appears to have worsened disparity, especially for men of color and those from underserved backgrounds in urban and rural areas.
“Many experts agree that better support needs to be given to male students from early childhood,” the article said. “Some theories suggest that the decline of underrepresented males begins in K-12 education, as boys on the whole are more likely to be held back, drop out, and have difficulty coping. In high school, young men of all demographic groups tend to earn lower GPAs than young women in English, math, social studies, and science, according to research by ACT Inc.”
Sylvester Edwards, a Terre Haute community leader and president of the Greater Terre Haute branch of the NAACP, suggests that young people, including men, choose not to attend college because they see no future. “Therefore, why go to college?”
He added: “I think the spirit of the times is very dark in terms of what our young people watch and see.”
From climate change to American political division to military conflicts overseas, young people see life as “so dark that they’ve given up,” he said. “I don’t know why there is such a pessimistic attitude with young people. Maybe it’s because we haven’t given them reason to be optimistic.
Indiana State University sociology professor Tom Steiger suggests that more and more young men are finding well-paying jobs in the skilled trades and becoming plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and more.
“The harbinger of the growing gender gap started years ago, but really started to show up with millennials,” he said. More young men have opted for the skilled trades.
Obama-era policies emphasized trades training, as did the Trump administration, Steiger said. Add to that restructured immigration policies, and “men are just responding to the market and a culture that defines these professions as for men.”
What can be done?
Lowery said the response must involve policies, programs and partnerships.
One policy suggested by the commission is to automatically enroll all eligible students into the 21st Century Scholars program; currently, less than half of eligible students enroll in the program. Eighty-one percent of scholarship recipients go to college.
In terms of curriculum, the commission recommends expanding programs already underway, such as the Indiana College Core, a 30-credit general education block that transfers between Indiana’s public institutions.
High school students who earn the Indiana College Core enroll in a series of dual-credit courses, allowing them to earn high school and college credits at the same time.
About 90% of students who earned the Indiana College Core last year went on to the next step, Lowery said. “It’s incredible.”
Partnerships are also key, he said. Young people, or even older students, want to hear from a trusted messenger, “and that’s not necessarily the government.”
Partnerships can involve non-profit organizations such as Boys and Girls Clubs; faith-based organizations; and employers.
As an example of partnerships, employers could host FAFSA graduation parties for employees with school-aged children or they could host college fairs so students can learn about career options. .
Bearce agreed that partnerships are key, especially those that provide greater opportunities for students to engage in meaningful work and learning experiences, including internships and apprenticeships, before they graduate from college. ‘secondary studies. “A lot of male students who think it’s a choice between working or going to school are going to choose a paycheck, so we need to give them relevant options to do both at the same time,” Bearce said. “Employers today are so desperate for talent that they may settle for less skilled workers, but they will be much more selective as the labor market evolves.”