By Manny Manriquez III
Like most colleges across the country, Pima Community College has a gender gap. Last fall’s enrollment was 55 percent female and 45 percent male, a 10-point gap.
For Hispanic students, the gap was even larger. There was a 17-point difference between Hispanic women and men.
PCC officials call the gender gap significant, and say it needs to be addressed.
“The state’s colleges and universities must do all they can to eliminate this disparity because of its impact on society,” Chancellor Ray Flores said.
A gender gap can affect the economy, experts say. An educated workforce attracts businesses, which leads to a good income, which then leads to spending and boosts the economy.
Adults with advanced degrees earn four times more than people who never completed high school. The U.S. Census and Education Department says workers with a master’s, professional or doctoral degree earned an average of $82,320 in 2006, while those with less than a high school diploma earned $20,873.
Nationwide, men have consistently represented about 43 percent of enrollments and earned 43 percent of bachelor’s degrees since 2000, according to a new report by the American Council on Education, a higher-education organization.
Among Hispanic young men, however, just 9 percent have earned a bachelor’s degree, the lowest level of any group studied. Fourteen percent of Hispanic young women have earned a bachelor’s.
Hispanics represent the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population, so closing the educational gap poses a challenge.
PCC spends $20 million annually on developmental education programs to provide pre-collegiate skills to students in mathematics, reading and writing. The college says 92 percent of Hispanic students test into developmental education in at least one study area.
The U.S. Department of Education has designated PCC a “Hispanic-serving institution,” which makes the college eligible for federal Title V grants. Since 2006, PCC has received three Title V grants totaling more than $8 million.
The grants support programs that are designed to improve academic outcomes for Hispanic and low-income students.
The college is also participating this spring in a privately-funded pilot program called Gain to study whether performance-based scholarships help Hispanic males improve academic achievement. Selected full-time students will receive $1,500 and part-time students will be awarded $500.
The ACE report suggests policymakers and educators can have the greatest effect by focusing efforts on Hispanics.
“Raising the attainment rate of Hispanic men — and women — looms as one of the most significant challenges facing American education,” said report author Jacqueline King, assistant vice president of ACE’s Center for Policy Analysis.
Concern over low male academic achievement and its consequences has attracted attention in recent years from groups as diverse as policy analysts, researchers, journalists and the American Association of University Women.
In addition to a four-year college degree, post-secondary education can include a two-year degree, vocational training and certificate programs.
Some researchers say women receive more encouragement to attend post-secondary school, starting as early as grade school. Others say females are encouraged to pursue careers in math and science, but males aren’t guided toward fields such as social work, nursing and teaching.
In December, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said it would investigate whether some colleges that are trying to minimize gender gaps end up discriminating against women by admitting males at a higher rate or offering more generous aid packages.
King, the ACE report author, doesn’t expect the gender ratio to budge any time soon.
“While the gender gap is important and should be addressed by educators and
policymakers, these findings suggest the current female majority may be higher education’s new normal,” she said.