The decline in college enrollment among U.S. young adults in the past decades is being driven in part by fewer young men pursuing higher education, according to data analyses by Pew Research Center.
Roughly 1 million fewer young men are in college compared to 0.2 million fewer young women in the past decade, Pew senior researcher Richard Fry wrote, citing new data from the U.S. Census Bureau pertaining to 18-to-24-year-olds’ college enrollment data.
“As a result, men make up 44 percent of young college students today, down from 47 percent in 2011…” he wrote. “This shift is driven entirely by the falling share of men who are students at four-year colleges. Today, men represent only 42 percent of students ages 18 to 24 at four-year schools, down from 47 percent in 2011.”
Fry said the decline of about 1.2 million in young college enrollment is not driven by a drop in the overall number of 18-to-24-year-old high school graduates, a figure which has actually modestly increased since 2011. Instead, he found the falling share of young high school graduates enrolling in college is responsible for the decline, with young men enrolling less than young women.
“Today, only 39 percent of young men who have completed high school are enrolled in college, down from 47 percent in 2011. The rate at which young female high school graduates enroll has also fallen, but not by nearly as much (from 52 percent to 48 percent),” Fry found.
Conversely, Fry said the drop in enrollment for two-year colleges has been similar for men and women, with men representing 49 percent of students ages 18 to 24, up from 48 percent in 2011.
The widest gender gap in college enrollment “is most apparent among white high school graduates,” Fry noted.
“Young White women who have finished high school are now 10 percentage points more likely to be enrolled in college than similar men. In 2011, the difference was only 4 points,” he wrote.
Fry further pointed to a 2021 Pew Research Center survey, which explored reasons why people do not finish college.
“Among adults who did not have a bachelor’s degree and weren’t enrolled in college, men were more likely than women to say they didn’t go to college because they just didn’t want to or because they didn’t feel they needed more education for the type of job they wanted,” he said. “But men and women were about equally likely to say that not being able to afford a four-year degree was a major reason why they hadn’t completed college.”