Campus gender gap widens

Second semester nursing students, from left, clockwise, Levi Hill, ElizabethVerespie, Victoria Cabrera and Stephanie Walley work Wednesday in a study group at Clovis Community College. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ Staff Writer

Women spill across the cafeteria, with their backpacks, purses, scarves and coats strewn across tables and seats. Peals of laughter pepper their conversations.

In this sea of 19 women, there are only four men.

Down the hall in a computer lab, seven men slouch in chairs surrounded by 29 women.

Here, men are nearly extinct.

For more than a decade, about 70 percent of students enrolled at Clovis Community College have been female, according to David Caffey, CCC vice president of institutional effectiveness.

In his math class, CCC student Ralph Parson III is the only male. He tends to keep quiet in that class, he said.

“I’m the runt,” Parson, 23, said.

Dwindling enrollment of men in postsecondary education has been a nationwide phenomenon since the 1980s, although the gender gap at CCC is more severe.

By 2003, the number of women in postsecondary education had eclipsed men. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 58 percent of undergraduates are female.

“I can’t look at these numbers without asking myself, ‘Are there things we could be doing to better serve the male population?’ It’s a concern,” Caffey said.

“For years, when you thought about gender equity, the shoe was on the other foot. This problem just kind of slipped up on us,” he said.

Caffey said CCC officials have discussed ways to bridge the gender gap: Offering more technical and occupational courses; adding social and cultural activities that appeal to men, like sports; extending night classes.

But CCC officials have not settled on a concrete plan to recruit men — yet, Caffey said.

The gender gap at Eastern New Mexico University mirrors the nationwide gap, according to ENMU officials. The university also has no concrete plans for recruiting male students.

About 51 percent of freshmen at ENMU the last two years were males, according to ENMU Executive Director of Planning and Analysis Patrice Caldwell. The trend is encouraging, but females still graduate within six years at higher rates than males, somewhat dulling recent freshmen percentages, she said.

Reasons and impacts of the gender divide at colleges and universities are still being studied.

CCC student David Woloszyn had to sacrifice a lucrative full-time career in construction to seek his degree in heating and ventilation. Now, he juggles construction work with school.

“It kills me everyday to be here,” said Woloszyn, 33, who is also raising a son. “Right now I’m just getting by.

“But I’m going for a bigger goal,” he said.

Therein lies one glaring reason for the gender divide: “I do think that, for whatever reason, men may be slightly more employable at an early age and without education than women,” Caldwell said.

According to Caldwell, the gender divide is gaining attention nationally. Yet, in New Mexico it is still largely ignored, she said. State funding officials rarely request gender enrollment statistics, she said.

“It is very important for us all to examine who is able to come to college and make sure we are making the university as accessible, flexible and reasonable as we can for everyone,” she said.