FINDING THOSE MISSING MEN. Steel City Cowboy suggests a simpler explanation for young men's diminished share of the freshman class. It's pragmatism rather than a feminist plot at work.
A 2002 breakdown by the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that while 74 percent of males over age 16 were in the labor force, only 60 percent of females were in the same group. In addition to that, a significantly larger proportion of the employed women worked in traditionally female jobs such as clerical and administrative positions. Although the current number and married men and women are basically equal (duh!), the number of men who have never been married is almost thirty percent higher than the number of women who have never been married.

[I]f the value of college education is declining, it would be men who would begin to jump ship first. People who expect an economic buffer, or who will be competing in a market in which an advanced skill set is not required, can afford to be more frivolous in the educational decisions. College to them would be an affordable luxury. To men, though, the cold grip of economic reality is felt sooner, and more surely.

But how would young men know ahead of time that the value of a college diploma is falling? By talking to their older brothers, their neighbors and friends, who are ten years ahead of them on the employment curve. Ask those people "Did college prepare you for the working world?" and they will most likely laugh first, then reply "Not at all. I learned more in my first month on the job than I did in four years at college. I probably should have saved the $100,000 it cost and started a shoe store."

I have my doubts about the "affordable luxury" hypothesis. Per corollary to the learning-by-entrepreneuring, why spend all the money on tuitions and sorority functions rather than joining the Junior League right out of high school? I also have doubts about the job-preparation hypothesis. With the exception of some business or service-sector curricula, higher education is not training for an entry level job. (When the resources and institutional commitment are there, and the moon is in the seventh house, and the smelt are running, the College of Liberal Arts argues, based on survey data, that a liberal arts degree better equips its holder with the ability to connect seemingly unrelated ideas, and other higher-order skills, valued in the executive suite.)

Yes, higher education might have a problem if some men's cost-benefit calculations work out against enrolling, but one solution to that problem is to focus on the higher-order skills rather than the (quickly overtaken by technical change anyway) entry-level job preparation.

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