Despite the fact that women still earn less than men on average, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and occupy only 32 CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies, women are surpassing men in academia.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, women have earned more bachelor’s degrees than men every year going back to 1982.
Since 2012, Cal State Fullerton has increased its four-year and six-year graduation rates overall, according to CSUF Institutional Research and Analytical Studies. Regardless of the improvement, a closer look at these numbers shows a growing gap between male and female students.
When comparing graduation rates between the group of students who began at CSUF in 2008 and graduated in 2012 to those who started in 2012 and graduated in 2016, male graduation rates grew from 9.8 percent to 14.9 percent while female rates increased from 19.9 percent to 27.2 percent.
These trends stay consistent across the CSU system.
In 2016, the average graduation rate across the CSU system was 16.5 percent for men and 23.8 percent for women.
Deanna Leone, executive director of the Retention Cluster Initiatives, who assists with student success initiatives, said that increased graduation rates for women coincide with additional resources becoming available on college campuses. CSUF maintains a variety of programs aimed to support women, including the WoMen’s Center and Title IX Office.
“Going way back in history, it was actually just the opposite. Men would achieve more. They would have better access to campus, so you saw women’s programs evolving on college campuses across the nation and we have some here,” Leone said.
Graduation rates are not the only area where men are lagging. According to data from CSUF Analytical Studies, women outnumber men in full-time enrollment 23,034 to 17,405 for the fall 2017 semester.
Lower enrollment for men may be related to the increased amount of employment options they have that don’t require a college degree.
“There is a sense that men may not necessarily have to go to college to be successful economically,” said women and gender studies lecturer David Christian. “Men go into fire departments, police departments. Men go work the longshore, the docks, men will enter the trade. Part of it is the idea that there is professional, financial freedom and opportunity for men that may not necessarily dictate a college graduate degree.”
However, there is evidence that suggests the gap in graduation rates may have more to do with male rates stagnating rather than female rates increasing.
A 2013 Ohio State University study found that men have better job prospects than women, even if they drop out of college, so women are more likely to stay in school and incur student loan debt.
“Guys will hit a certain point where they’ve taken so much student loans and they’ll drop out,” Christian said. “Guys are doing this cost-benefit analysis early on and realizing, ‘This isn’t a good economic equation for me.’”
In an effort to increase its graduation rates statewide, the CSU system implemented the Graduation Initiative 2025. Unveiled in 2015, the initiative instructed CSUF to increase its four-year graduation rate from 22 percent to 44 percent and two-year transfer graduation rate from 32 percent to 44 percent by the year 2025.
CSUF is still too early in the process to see a dramatic increase in its graduation rates.
“We’ve only had one cohort of students that graduated, so really you won’t see the impact until you have a full set of students that go through four years,” Leone said. “But we anticipate that we can get it to 44 percent by 2025.”
CSUF has also added new programs to increase graduation rates among its male students. Formed in the 2013-14 academic year, the Male Success Initiative aims to improve male graduation and retention rates, especially among low-income and first-generation students.
“I definitely think that being a department whose focus is to support men and also men of color, there will be change, but it will be incremental,” said Vincent Harris, director of the Male Success Initiative. “I don’t think that it’s going to be overnight and even if it is I don’t think that it’ll be drastic. But I do think we are moving forward in the right direction.”