Gender gap grows at UWRF and nationally

Posted October 16, 2021

Twice as many women attend UW-River Falls than men, according to campus data, contributing to an increasing national education gap.

Last year at UW-River Falls, 65% of student enrollment was female, according to a university institutional research report released in March.

The data also show male enrollment is down 4.4% over the previous five years. The data is in line with a growing trend across U.S. universities that shows lower male enrollment and a widening gender gap in higher education.

At the end of the 2020-2021 academic year women made up 59.5% of college enrollment across the country, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. The article said universities are seeing lower enrollment overall regardless of gender and that men accounted for roughly 70% of the decline.

Sarah Nelson, the director of admissions at UWRF, said the campus is not alone in the dynamic of enrollment disparities. While the campus enrollment numbers reflect the national trends, Nelson cannot provide a main reason for this increasing gap.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Nelson said. “I don’t think we know the answers.”

Nelson said the campus has many academic programs directed towards females that contribute to the trend, such as animal science and education majors. Nelson also said more males are devaluing a college education compared to joining the workforce right out of college. She added that a rising number of male students don’t see a value in getting a four-year degree. This problem is an important issue to Nelson.

“I think there’s a lot of value in having an educated population regardless of your gender or gender identity,” Nelson said. “The economics of that are really important to the region in the state.”

Assistant Chancellor for Student Success Jamie Zamjahn agreed and said this may result in a lack of social mobility.

“There’s a lot of worry about males leaving these higher-level positions which could ultimately hurt our national, local and state economies,” Zamjahn said.

UWRF has not conducted any research to determine why its female enrollment numbers are so high besides having female-oriented programs. Additionally, the admissions office has not directed any focus towards recruitment for males, Nelson said.

“We have discussed marketing more towards male enrollment but nothing ever came of it,” Nelson said.

One of Zamjahn’s roles is addressing the issue of male recruitment. The department is trying to add co-curricular activities such as baseball or e-sports to draw interest from potential applicants, Zamjahn said. Another goal for Zamjahn and the department is to reengage students hoping they see the value of higher education. To accomplish this, the office will provide students with an outlook of their field during their enrollment in their degree program.

“As we’re bringing in new students we want to say, ‘All right, you might be interested in communications. Here is where our communication graduates are going, here are the companies they’re working for and on average here is how much the starting wage is,’” Zamjahn said.

Both Zamjahn and Nelson agree there is no easy way to fix the problem, but the best way is to have students realize the value of their education.