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Where are the college guys?

The number of men in higher education is dwindling. SPC will do something about it.

Published February 4, 2007


CLEARWATER - Nikia Smith could have left his studies at St. Petersburg College to work full time.

"It was hard," Smith said of his days, which started before dawn and lasted long after dark. "5:30 to 9:40 at night. Handling two jobs for two years. I don't see how I did it, looking back."

He hasn't quit, but young men like him are increasingly rare on college campuses both in Florida and nationwide.

The number of male students is dwindling quickly enough that SPC recently created a support group, tentatively called Men on the Way.

Through tutoring, scholarship counseling and maybe even social outings, Men on the Way is aimed at increasing the college's male enrollment.

It's a rare step. The University of South Florida, the University of Florida and Florida State University don't have initiatives geared specifically at recruiting or retaining male students.

"We felt we are missing the boat," SPC president Carl Kuttler said. "What's happening to our boys?"

Men on the Way could help, said Smith, 22, who is taking classes at SPC and at USF, where he is pursing an engineering degree.

"It's not just economic reasons that hold people from school," said Smith, who was raised by a single mother. "It's emotional support."

- - -

St. Petersburg College, where men make up only 37 percent of the student body, is a pronounced example of a widespread trend.

Nationwide, men make up about 43 percent of undergraduates, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Likewise, they account for 43 percent of students in Florida's university system.

The gender gap carries through to graduation at every level, from associate's degrees to doctorates.

In the 2004-05 school year, women earned 38,156 bachelor's degrees in Florida, said Thomas Mortenson, editor of the Postsecondary Education Opportunity Newsletter. Men received 27,683.

As the enrollment of women has soared over the last three decades, some observers worried that men are falling behind.

"It's going to be an extraordinary issue in the future," said Mortenson, who has been warning of dire consequences since 1995. "At some point, we are going to figure out that men have gotten lost."

Others cringed at the idea of blanket "affirmative action" for men, who, they noted, are still paid more than women.

The bigger gaps in college attendance are between black, Latino and lower-class white men and their female counterparts, not wealthier white males, some pointed out.

"What colleges and high schools need to do is to try to encourage black and Latino men to succeed in college and go to college," said Catherine Hill, director of research for the American Association of University Women.

At Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, admission officials have raised male enrollment from 35 percent in 1999 to 45 percent today.

"We have had to find the right males," said Robert Massa, the college's vice president for enrollment. "We have been able to do that through a combination of buying more names of high-performing males and marketing to them."

Some administrators think imbalance of the sexes in higher education is an issue of critical importance.

"It's a major issue for this country," said Deborah Leather, associate provost at Maryland's Towson University. "We could have a very different society in a generation or two."

Towson administrators launched a trial admissions program two years ago that changed the weight the school gives to criteria for a small, experimental group of applicants. The weight assigned to test scores increased, while the value assigned to grades decreased.

The program is open to both sexes - it would be discriminatory if it were designed only for men - but it has had the incidental effect of increasing the number of male students accepted to Towson.

- - -

At St. Petersburg College, which has had a Women on the Way program for years, administrators have set up Men on the Way in a portable trailer on the Clearwater campus and provided $300,000 in funding.

Rod Davis, 34, an academic adviser, is charged with getting the program up and running. The idea is to form a program that spreads to all of the SPC campuses.

Potentially, it will provide services like tutoring, scholarships and leadership development and maybe even activities such as trips to Bucs or Devil Rays games.

Most importantly, it aims to recruit boys at middle and high schools.

"The biggest part of the program," Davis said, "is how we can go out there and let our male students know that there is a safe haven and reel them in with the whole idea of education."

Since the 1960s, a big focus has been on providing educational opportunities for women.

But recent books and studies - even first lady Laura Bush's comments regarding men's low representation in college - have energized the dialogue about the educational needs of men.

In 2005, advocates formed a national consortium called the Boys Project, in part to promote legislation to address the "boy crisis."

"We are together trying to figure out what is going on with guys," said Judith Kleinfeld, a psychology professor at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, who directs the project. "The problems start way before college."

Boys begin to fall behind in kindergarten and elementary school because the teaching style plays to girls' strengths, Kleinfeld and others said.

It's easier for girls to sit still and learn to read and write, while boys need to move around more and interact with the world in a physical way, said Boys Project member Kathy Stevens, co-author of The Minds of Boys.

The gender gap begins to show up in third grade, when girls begin to score higher than boys in standardized tests, Stevens said.

Hill, of the American Association of University Women, disagreed with the generalization that boys and girls are fundamentally different biologically.

And she cautioned against seeing women's gains as men's losses.

"We certainly should be expanding, making room for everyone at the table," she said.

In a study last year, the American Council on Education determined that females dominate college attendance and do better than males in other measures of educational success.

But the gap varies by race and class.

"It was important for our campuses to know where they are having more success recruiting men," said Jacqueline King, who directs the council's policy analysis center. "They are not having as much success recruiting low-income and minority men."

Over at Men on the Way, Davis has studied one successful male program at City University of New York and another that works with Eskimo students in Alaska.

Yet another model is the 12-year-old Men's Resource Center at Lakeland Community College in Ohio.

"When you go on their Web site, you can see their success," Davis said. "There's a men's center, men's shop, career-recruiting shop, guest speakers, tutoring."

So far, Davis said, he has about 30 prospective members for SPC's Men on the Way.

"I think it will be great," said Smith, the engineering student. "We all have the same intentions to graduate and stay in school."

Jose Cardenas can be reached at 727 445-4224 or

The gender gap in higher education

Percentage of men and women on college campuses:



Nationwide  43 57
All Florida universities  43 57
University of Florida   47.1 52.9
University of South Florida   40 60
Florida State University  43.6 56.4
St. Petersburg College   37 63

[Last modified February 4, 2007, 21:49:04]

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