Women are dominating college enrollment and graduation rates across the U.S. and at Point Loma Nazarene University

With women representing a larger percentage of undergraduate enrollment, a gender gap has impacted U.S. college campuses for several decades, and enrollment data reflects a similar trend at Point Loma Nazarene University; however, PLNU’s numbers are much higher and steadier, having been around 63% female enrollment from 2013-2020.

The gender gap at PLNU has grown even wider since the pandemic, according to Scott Shoemaker, associate vice president for enrollment and retention at PLNU.

Brent Goodman, director of institutional research, said in an email that the fall 2023 traditional undergraduate enrollment “is 66% women and 34% men.” This difference in enrollment is larger at the master’s and Adult Degree Completion program levels.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the gap is wider in private colleges than in public. The 2020-21 school year showed record levels for private schools: 61% women enrollment.

“Christian higher ed tends to be a little more skewed than the rest of private higher ed,” Shoemaker said.

In the early 1980s, women matched men for the first time in bachelor degrees earned, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, and since then they have continued to surpass their male counterparts in college enrollment and completion.

However, despite the college-level gap, men currently hold the highest positions in many fields because of historical education inequality, according to Kelli McCoy, co-director of the Center for Women’s Studies.

McCoy believes that Title IX has played a huge role in getting women into education.

“Absolutely Title IX is a huge part of what’s given women a greater access to college education,” said McCoy.

Title IX “protects against discrimination based on sex (including sexual harassment),” according to the California Department of Education.

Overall, the gender gap continues to widen across US college campuses, reaching a high of 57.7 percent female within the amount of bachelor’s degrees awarded by postsecondary institutions at the end of the 2020-21 academic year, according to The National Center for Education Statistics. 

According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 58% of college students in spring 2023 were women.

However, enrollment rates are not the only numbers seeing a gender gap.

“It’s true that higher percentages of women are starting college, but an even higher percentage are graduating,” Shoemaker said.

The Wall Street Journal focuses on men “abandoning higher education” as a key reason for the college gender gap.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post deems the situation as more complex than The Wall Street Journal makes it out to be, focusing on how “the enrollment of women has grown at a much faster pace” than the enrollment of men.

April M. Cordero, the associate provost of educational effectiveness, shared the importance of having men attend PLNU.

“We’re interested in the best possible learning experience for students, and in my opinion that includes diverse classroom[s],” said Cordero, “And that would include — you know — backgrounds, gender. And so having … less males just means less diverse.”

As for why the gap exists at PLNU, Shoemaker felt that the issue is complex and multifaceted, while Goodman looked specifically at  PLNU’s “prominent nursing program,” a typically women-dominated field, as one of the reasons for the gap.

According to PLNU’s Fall 2022 DataPoint, nursing is one of the school’s top traditional undergraduate programs, sporting 198 students out of a total of 3,181 traditional undergraduate students.  In comparison, computer science has 65 students and engineering has five. 

Shoemaker also said that PLNU’s safe environment played a role in the gap.

“One of the largest factors in attractiveness to this campus has been its safety, which probably disproportionately relates to families with young women looking at school than families with young men,” Shoemaker said.

He also said that PLNU’s gap is partly due to the lack of typically male-dominated programs and opportunities.

“Not much in engineering or computer science,” he said.

According to 2018 statistics from the National Science Foundation, women received 27.6% of all engineering bachelor’s degrees. Computer science was lower for women at 19.9%.

Shoemaker also said that PLNU’s lack of a football team has contributed to the imbalance.

The Wall Street Journal points out that “Between 2005 and 2015, at least 86 colleges and universities fielded new football teams,” and a majority of those schools consequently saw higher male enrollment.

Men are also abandoning colleges for financial and work reasons, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Nash Maroki, a second-year business accounting major, said that one of his friends dropped out of community college to work and provide more for his family.

But there are other reasons. According to Pew Research, “Men are more likely than women to point to factors that have more to do with personal choice,” regarding not going to college.

Scott Shoemaker said that the issue of men being ill-prepared for college “goes all the way back to elementary school.”

He said, based on observational experience, that elementary and high schools do not accommodate boys/men well since they are generally less eager to sit still and focus for long periods of time.

Psychology Today noted that the brains of men and women work differently in some ways. The piece said that “Women are better at attention, word memory and social cognition, and verbal abilities.”

Also, a 2015 study found “that adolescent girls consistently score higher than boys on personality traits that are found to facilitate academic achievement.”

Alternatively, Shoemaker said that women apply to more schools on average than men do. 

“In terms of the students themselves seeking out input and information, women are always doing more of it,” Shoemaker said.

Cordero said that she feels “there’s been some maybe misadvertising that the degree isn’t really worth it anymore.”

In 2018, Forbes said that The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and Washington Post all ran either an article or a video questioning colleges’ worthiness.

The rise in trade school enrollment may also play a factor in the men/women gap.

An article by AP said that “many trade programs are thriving,” especially construction trades, which saw a 19.3% growth in enrollment.

According to the Construction Employers Association, 93.8% of construction workers are men.

While many factors are at play adding to the cause of the gap at PLNU, leadership hopes to see a more balanced gender enrollment.

“We would love to see us swing closer to 50/50,” said Director of Undergraduate Admissions Mandy Hong.

Articles for more information and perspectives:

“What’s behind the growing gap between men and women in college completion?” by Pew Research Center.

“College Gender Gap Starts Early and Extends across Races” by the Public Policy Institute of California.

“A Generation of American Men Give Up on College: ‘I Just Feel Lost’” by The Wall Street Journal.

“Worries about a gender gap on campuses oversimplify the situation” by The Washington Post.

“What’s behind the unexpected gender gap on college campuses?” by Yahoo News.