Our generation is among the most well educated to date, according to the latest government information available, compiled for the National Center for Educational Statistics.
On our campus at SUNY New Paltz, the number of students completing their degrees continues to rise, but the disparity between men and women enrolling in college shows an alarming trend.
The ratio of women to men at New Paltz is currently 62 to 38 percent. “Young women in high school and college are socially underground and academically above ground,” said Vice President of Enrollment Management L. David Eaton. In other words it is becoming considered “cool” for women to be smart, but not necessarily for men.
“As SUNY institutions become more selective, high-graduation rates are predominantly driven by the academic preparedness of students,” Eaton said. “Academically prepared students are going to succeed no matter where they go.” Young men are dropping out of high schools before they even become a factor in college recruitment. On SUNY campuses as a whole, the ratio of women to men in 2011 was considerably more even, at 54 to 46 percent.
Graduation rates (defined as the percentage of first-time full-time bachelor’s degree-seeking students earning any formal award including certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree within six years) have steadily improved across the United States in the last decade.
“[Graduation and retention] have been a focus of the administration,” said Lucy Walker, campus research analyst. The first-year student retention rate at New Paltz is 87 percent, up slightly from 86 percent last year.
Campus officials did a few things, according to Walker, including a study on when students declare their majors, which resulted in allowing incoming freshmen to remain undeclared until their sophomore year.
Other means of promoting graduation on campus have been attempts to improve what can be a frustrating paperwork process by improving academic advising and increasing advising staff members. “We expect our own local graduation rates to continue to improve,” Walker said.
In 1999, New York State was ranked 24 in the U.S., with a graduation rate of 51.6 percent, nearly even with the national average –then 52 percent. A decade later in 2009, New York State ranked 15 in the U.S., with a graduation rate of 59.2 percent; the national average had risen to 55.5 percent. At SUNY New Paltz those numbers improved also, from 48 to 68 percent.
This leaves college campuses, especially New Paltz, at an imbalance, proud of climbing rates of grads who successfully complete their degrees yet struggling to find a way to help young men succeed in higher education.
The SUNY system overall has a capture rate of 40 percent of all graduating high school students in the state. That means that the other 60 percent is divided among those who either don’t go to college, or attend private or out-of-state institutions.
Some say the problem is because of limited course offerings and extra curricular activities.
“If they offered more majors that were appealing to men, male enrollment would probably be higher,” said Stacey Rymer, a fourth-year sociology major from the Bronx. “There aren’t a lot of ‘guy’ majors here.”
Rymer suggests incorporating degree programs such as sports-fitness, sports-medicine, and physical therapy, as well as D1 sports participation to appeal to male applicants.
The SUNY schools that New Paltz competes with for students most, according to Eaton are Binghamton, Albany, Stony Brook and Buffalo; unlike New Paltz they all have higher ratios of men to women.
Others feel that the imbalance stems from the historical roots of the university.
“In the 1900s New Paltz was a teachers’ college and the students were predominately women,” said Richard Jean-Louis, a fourth-year biology and Black Studies major from Brooklyn. “I think that trend has just carried on.”
Understanding the trends in graduation rates can be confusing, especially when it comes to how the numbers are calculated. Transfer and returning students do not factor into the analysis, which includes only first-time students.
“Historically we only count freshmen; it’s very traditional,” Eaton said. “We have to continue counting it the way we’ve been counting it,” said Eaton, who acknowledges that it can be misleading. “National data should be more inclusive – we do it the way the feds do it.”
The federal government uses what it calls the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). To change the method of calculation by including transfer students, who graduate in near-equal numbers consistent with students who spent their entire undergraduate careers at the same institution, would skew the numbers and therefore alter the trends, Eaton explained.
But more changes are coming as the U.S. population evolves. The United States is projected to be a majority-minority nation for the first time in 2043, according to the most recent census data, meaning that while the non-Hispanic white population will remain the largest single group, no group will make up a majority.
Students may graduate and look back several years from now on a very different, and hopefully more culturally advanced demographic in campus society.
View SUNY: Trends by the Numbers in a larger map