College completion rate among men stalls

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A new report on minority achievement in higher education sounds an alarm about a stark reversal of fortune for an unlikely minority group: men.

Younger men are significantly less likely to have completed college than older men, according to an analysis of federal data by the American Council on Education, a nonprofit group that represents college leaders. The educational stagnation of men is hindering the progress of the nation as a whole and largely offsetting gains by women, the group says.

The 24th edition of the Minorities in Higher Education report provides the latest evidence of academic decline among men, particularly in college. Women outnumber men nearly 3-to-2 in the college population, largely because men are more likely to drop out of high school and to forgo college for manual labor or the military.

Many generations of Americans exceeded the academic attainment of their parents. That remains true, the new study finds, but only for women. As of 2008, 42 percent of women ages 25 to 34 held at least an associate's degree, compared with 34 percent of women ages 55 to 64.

For men, the reverse is true. The college completion rate is 33 percent for younger men and 40 percent for older men.

"Clearly, women of the post- baby boom generations have been successful in raising college attainment while men have not, and the gap between women and men is growing," the report states.

Young men of every racial group are less likely to have finished college than older men of the same race. The sole exception is Asian Americans, whose completion rates are much higher among young adults of both sexes.

Young women of every race, by contrast, have a college completion rate equal to or higher than that of their elders.

It's not that men have stopped going to college. Male completion rates have effectively stalled, while female completion continues to rise, creating an exaggerated appearance of male failure, said Bryan Cook, director of the Center for Policy Analysis at the D.C.-based council.

"One of the things we know is that women need higher levels of education than men to earn the same salary," Cook said. "So you see women persisting in school and going further than men. You also see more women returning to work who are single heads of household."

Among whites ages 55 to 64, the college completion rate is 37 percent for women and 43 percent for men. Among whites ages 25 to 34, the completion rates are 49 percent for women and 39 percent for men.

Among Hispanics, the fastest-growing ethnic group in American colleges, 14 percent of younger men have completed college, compared with 19 percent of older men.

Combining both sexes, the overall college completion rate for young and old is virtually the same - 38 percent among the young and 37 percent among the old.

The report finds some progress among other metrics of educational achievement. High school completion rates have remained fairly constant, rising from 81 percent in 1988 to 83 percent in 2008.

The share of young adults enrolled in college increased significantly for every racial and ethnic group in that span, and overall college enrollment among the young rose from 30 percent in 1988 to 41 percent in 2008. But most of the gains came in the 1990s.

College enrollment rates for the Hispanic population are rising, but they remain lower than comparable rates for blacks, whites and Asians. That group "presents key challenges, and opportunities," for improving success rates in higher education, the report states.

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