Steel City Cowboy

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Men, Higher Education and the Marketplace

This article at the Weekly Standard online, which I found through Instapundit, argues that the declining application, acceptance and graduation of males at four your colleges shows the malefic effects of Title IX, as well as an increasing war in the primary and secondary public school systems against what are considered standard males traits, and that a great and scandalous disservice is being perpetrated upon young American males.

Allow me to suggest an alternative point of view.

As economic actors, males are more directly linked to the current state of the market than females, and will therefore react more immediately to any changes in that market. Could it be that declining college enrollment and graduation figures are a recognition by the most interested individuals that the value of a college education is declining? In that case, it is not men who should be worried, but the colleges themselves, as this could be a harbinger of their increasing irrelevance to what most people would consider Real Life.

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.

What's the point of these statistics (which are, granted, worse than damned lies)? Well, you could read them to mean that young men (and men in general) expect that they will more likely to have to support themselves than the average woman, and that they will be competing in a job market that requires skills above the menial level. On the other hand, women will be looking at the job market knowing that they are more likely to get married (an economic buffer) or to work in a job that basically requires you to answer phones, click a keyboard and file papers, which, let's face it, doesn't require a gigantic skill set.

So, if 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." With the exception of certain professions that require licensing and/or accreditation of some kind (MD's, lawyers, teachers), a four year degree is essentially useless to what you will actually do for the rest of your life. And men are beginning to realize it. Everyone will, eventually, but women will do so more slowly, as their reward structure is not as directly tied to their use of the next four years as their male contemporaries'.

Am I arguing against Vickers recommendation in the linked article that the President should take on Title IX? Not at all. Nuke Title IX. It was messing with the market in the first place, adding just one more barrier between higher education and reality, and further decreasing its relevance. However, the problem isn't that because of this higher education has done a disservice to men. We'll be just fine, thank you. Although women play an increasing role, our economy and business structure was founded and evolved based on mostly male structures, and men are still the economic drivers of our society. The problem is that higher education has done a disservice to itself that will only continue and deepen if they fail to recognize the diminished value they are providing.


  • At 1/14/2006 4:21 PM, Blogger anti-militant said…

    I think there is a lot of truth in your article - my response was roughly the same when I read the original Instapundit link. One needs to be careful not to overstate things, though - colleges have less economic utility than they had, but they still have economic utility. The difference is at the margin. But don't expect colleges to go out of business anytime soon. They're filling another niche - a recreational niche that lies between summer camp and finishing school. Take the most extreme case - Bennington College - which is now nearly 70% female, and if their webpage doesn't look like a summer camp or finishing school, then I don't know what it is.

  • At 1/16/2006 12:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Except for law, teaching, or medicine? Have you checked the law schools or medical schools lately? Not to mention veterinary schools (about three/fourths female). Have you seen many high school graduates in the executive ranks lately?
    Positions of power are not the real world? Your argument is absurd on its face.
    What is needed is to make college a socialization in aggressive thinking rather than docility.

  • At 1/16/2006 1:26 PM, Blogger Roland said…

    I'm not arguing that it will turn out well for those who decide against going to college. And I agree that for the most part, a college education is a requirement of entry (though not from a practical standpoint) into many different fields, including the executive ranks.

    But here's a question to think about: the current executive ranks were in college when? Fifteen years ago? What happens fifteen years from now when the only people available to competently staff an aggressive company are 1) people with an essentially empty BA; 2) people who have started, shepherded and sold several small businesses on their own already?

    Of course, one could also argue that the real gateway to the executive class is the MBA, and that MBA programs are essentially trade schools (which is not a dig, in my mind). Once again, how long before their total pool of applicants (almost all require at least a BA for admission) starts to dry up and they begin to more liberally substitute actual business experience for the BA requirement?

    The odds are that it's not going to happen, and, as the first commenter noted, this is only on the edges, and will only show edge effects (smaller, less pretigious business schools would go first).


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