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Overlooked: Fewer rural young men are going to college

OPINION: Programs to help disadvantaged white male students are lacking

When it comes to providing higher education opportunities to students, rural young men are being overlooked.

Since 2010, male student enrollment in college has declined by 17 percent, according to a National Center for Education Statistics report. In 2021, 58 of undergraduates were female, while 42 percent were male.

The disparity is even more pronounced among rural young men, Denise Callahan, director of postsecondary success with the Ford Family Foundation, told The Oregonian for a recent article.

“It’s not a group who necessarily you think of,” she told the news outlet. “At the end of the day, anytime we have a significant group not participating in education, it’s going to come back and bite us.”

A report sponsored by the foundation found about 50 percent of rural young women in Oregon go to college, but only a little more than one third of rural young men do.

Census data indicates most of these young men are white. “Rural America remains predominately non-Hispanic White with 35 million White residents constituting 76 percent of the rural population according to the 2020 Census,” a University of New Hampshire analysis found.

Callahan’s organization recognized college isn’t for everyone, stating in the report “there are many noncollege pathways to successful lives, such as apprenticeships and military service.”

However, the problem is when rural young men want to go to college but don’t have the opportunity.

The Oregonian reports more:

Hunter Denny, a junior at Madras High in central Oregon, can see the gender gap among his older friends. Most of the girls have gone off to college, he said, in many cases chasing careers as veterinarians or therapists. A lot of his male friends stuck around to work in agriculture.

“Most of the guys are just kind of content here. All of their friends are here and their family business is here,” Denny said.

He also thinks boys feel more pressure to follow in family footsteps. They’ve grown up helping dads and grandpas around the farms, Denny said, and heard from a young age that it’ll be their turn to take over someday.

Denny wants to study nuclear engineering, but he’s not sure if he’ll be able to afford a university education. If that plan doesn’t work out, he said, he’ll go work for his grandparents. Eventually he’ll take over their family farm.

“That’s not really the path that I want to go down,” he said. “But there’s a lot of people who feel like that’s where they belong, because that’s what they’ve grown up with.”

Another student, Shawn Whinery, told the newspaper that he wants to go to the University of Oregon to study communications, but he and his family cannot afford it.

Financial constraints and cultural attitudes always have kept students from pursuing higher education. And today, there are many, many programs dedicated to helping students overcome these barriers — just search the internet for “women and STEM.”

Traditionally, these programs have helped women and racial minorities. But recently, the situation seems to have reversed, and now young men are the ones being overlooked.

Equal opportunities for all means everyone. Young men who want to go to college deserve more support.

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About the Author
Micaiah Bilger is an assistant editor at The College Fix.