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Monday, September 25, 2023
Sept. 25, 2023

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Downey: Where the boys aren’t — college graduations


I attended two graduation ceremonies earlier this month, including the University of Georgia gala replete with fireworks at Sanford Stadium. At both events, I was struck with how many more women than men crossed the stage.

As my husband saw the UGA grads line up in our daughter’s major, he joked if she had wanted an all-women’s environment, she could have saved us all the parking fees (and parking tickets) by walking the four blocks from our house to nearby Agnes Scott College.

Afterward, I looked at the latest University System of Georgia enrollment data for the spring semester that just concluded. The total UGA undergraduate and graduate enrollment was 39,373 students, 59 percent of whom were female.

The gender tilt in favor of women at UGA is even more pronounced at other public campuses in Georgia. Females comprise close to 70 percent of the enrollment at South Georgia State, Valdosta State University, the College of Coastal Georgia, the University of West Georgia and Georgia Southwestern State University.

The sole campus in the University System where males outpace females is Georgia Tech, which is nearly 68 percent male. The only school with gender balance is Kennesaw State University where women account for slightly more than half of the enrollment. The ratios at those two campuses likely reflect their specialty areas that still tend to draw more male students, such as engineering, computer science and construction-related fields.

If you want to understand the prevalence of women at our public campuses, go back to the high school pipeline. The pipeline leaks too many kids along the way to college enrollment, especially boys.

Nationwide, concern is growing over a widening gap in male and female academic attainment. Among the disparities revealed in federal data: For every 100 women enrolled in U.S. colleges at all levels, there are 77 men enrolled. For every 100 women who earn a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, there are 74 men. While 51 percent of women graduate college within four years, only 41 percent of men do so, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

A typical response to these disparate academic trends is that men can succeed without a college degree. And they can if they go into a narrow slice of high-paying blue-collar jobs, including plumbing, HVAC and construction.


Still, despite the increased public skepticism about whether a college diploma is worth it, the median economic value-added of a bachelor’s degree doubled over the value of a high school degree after 1983, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, famously once contended that a college degree was overhyped, proclaiming. “Welders make more money than philosophers.” It wasn’t true then or now.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that welders now earn a median salary of $47,540, while college grads in philosophy earn $55,000.

Economist Richard Reeves, author of the bestselling book “Of Boys and Men,” cites a raft of alarming data points that suggest men and boys are adrift, from being less likely as single young adults than their female counterparts to buy a home and more likely to live with their parents.

College grads not only make more money on average; they live longer, according to research. My uncle was a self-employed plumber who used to tell me and my brothers that he spent a lot of his days in crawlspaces and had the bad knees to show for it.

“Go to college,” he advised us. “The view is nicer and it’s easier on your back.”