What Happened to the Men?

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal a couple of days ago that floored me – so much that I had to read it a second time. And I still haven’t figured out how to react, or how big the impact on our society is going to be.

The article, published September 6, is titled “A Generation of American Men Give Up on College: ‘I Just Feel Lost’.” From the article:

Men are abandoning higher education in such numbers that they now trail female college students by record levels.

At the close of the 2020-21 academic year, women made up 59.5% of college students, an all-time high, and men 40.5%, according to enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit research group. U.S. colleges and universities had 1.5 million fewer students compared with five years ago, and men accounted for 71% of the decline.

This education gap, which holds at both two- and four-year colleges, has been slowly widening for 40 years. The divergence increases at graduation: After six years of college, 65% of women in the U.S. who started a four-year university in 2012 received diplomas by 2018 compared with 59% of men during the same period, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

In the next few years, two women will earn a college degree for every man, if the trend continues, said Douglas Shapiro, executive director of the research center at the National Student Clearinghouse.

Got it? The percentage of women undergrads is at an all-time high – not because more women are going to a two- or four-year college, but because the number of men doing so has fallen off a cliff.

Why would that be? The article offers some possible reasons:

Social science researchers cite distractions and obstacles to education that weigh more on boys and young men, including videogames, pornography, increased fatherlessness and cases of over diagnosis of boyhood restlessness and related medications.

Men in interviews around the U.S. said they quit school or didn’t enroll because they didn’t see enough value in a college degree for all the effort and expense required to earn one. Many said they wanted to make money after high school.

Others offer other explanations:

Many young men are hobbled by a lack of guidance, a strain of anti-intellectualism and a growing belief that college degrees don’t pay off, said Ed Grocholski, a senior vice president at Junior Achievement USA, which works with about five million students every year to teach about career paths, financial literacy and entrepreneurship.

“What I see is there is a kind of hope deficit,” Mr. Grocholski said.

I don’t know the real reasons, and I certainly don’t know the solutions. But what I do know is that historically, those with higher level of education have had significantly better financial and life outcomes, and there’s every reason to believe that’s still the case going forward. And the fact that this topic sees so little conversation is alarming. Because if we don’t address these issues, and we allow so many young men to fall through the cracks, we’re in for a very tough time as a nation.


Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of the National Center for College and Career (NC3T) (www.nc3t.com). NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance, and tools. These strategies help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.