The percentage of female students in higher education is at an all-time high. In the United States and Canada today, approximately 60 percent of all undergraduates are women, and 40 percent are men. Futurist David Houle says this is a historic change that will have ramifications both in North America and around the world for the next 50 years.
Educational research in the past few decades in the United States has consistently showed that, at most levels of K-12 education, girls perform better than boys. Yet there was a historical inequality at the higher education level due to social pressures and mores that prioritized males both at colleges and universities and in the workplace. The women's liberation movement of the 1970s and the beginning of the information age in the 1980s created the explosive percentage growth of women both in higher education and in the professional workplace.
In North America, women reached parity with men at the college undergraduate level in the late 1980s and in master's degree programs in the late 1990s. Currently, women make up slightly less than 50 percent of students at the PhD level, but they are expected to cross that number in the next several years.
There have been many stories in the media recently about this gender imbalance at the undergraduate level. Today, for every two male students, there are three females entering college. This has produced obvious social issues on campuses, as there are more and more women undergraduates looking for social connections with men than there are available partners. This has affected social behavior and sexual conduct.
Males still are a majority in such fields as engineering, but at liberal arts colleges that do not emphasize engineering, there have actually been concerns that less-qualified males are being admitted to keep the student body from skewing ever more female.
Why has this happened? Educators and sociologists have many theories—usually a combination of higher drop-out rates of males from high school, girls doing better at standardized tests than boys, a higher participation in gangs and drugs by males, an increased need for recruits for the military in times of war (the military is still predominantly male), and a male absorption with computer and gaming technology.
I am not here to speak to the past, but to suggest how these trends in higher education will change our society in the future.
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