NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 10, 2008

A Rip Van Winkle waking up from a 30-year nap on a college campus today would notice a strange change in the student body.  Most of the students walking past him would be women, says Mary Grabar, an English teacher at Emory University.

For example:

  • A generation ago, women made up less than half the student body.
  • But in 2005 they made up 57 percent of total fall enrollments, and the Department of Education estimates the gender discrepancies will increase every year in the foreseeable future.

Also, once they are in college, women are more likely to finish:

  • In 2005-06, graduation rates favored women by 26 percent in terms of earning bachelor's degrees, and 33 percent in master's degrees.
  • Even among doctorates, where men still hold a slight advantage, women are projected to eclipse them in 2014.

Advanced Placement high school classes provide a good barometer for determining who will go on to college, and here, too, women surpass men:

  • Females make up 64 percent in English literature and 63 percent in English language and composition; they outdo males significantly in history (United States, European, and world), art history, and the romance languages.
  • Only in certain classes, mainly in mathematics and advanced sciences, do boys exceed girls: They hold a clear lead in computer science (83 percent), physics (65 percent to 78 percent in higher levels), advanced calculus (59 percent), and economics, although females equal them in Calculus A/B and beat them in biology, environmental science, and psychology.

Also, at the high school level, we see the same outcomes for boys and girls.  For instance, the gender gap in reading scores widened between 1992 and 2005:

  • According to the Department of Education, it grew from 10 points among 12th graders (297 for girls vs. 287 for boys) to 16 points (295 vs. 279).
  • Writing skills seem to follow reading levels, according to a 2005 DOE study that showed that high school seniors who read for fun "almost every day" scored an average of 165 on writing assessments while those who "never or hardly ever" read for fun scores of only 136.
  • While the gap in recent years has closed, this month's National Assessment of Educational Progress report showed a yawning 18-point gap between girls and boys.

Source: Mary Grabar, "Boyz n the Book; Johnny can read, but won't, and who can blame him?" Weekly Standard, Vol. 14, Issue 7, October 27, 2008.


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