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Men have fallen behind women in the pursuit of a college education in West Virginia and across the country.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that statistics from the National Student Clearinghouse show that, at the end of the 2020-21 academic year, “women made up 59.5% of college students, an all-time high, and men 40.5%.”

West Virginia’s numbers are similar.

Women comprise 57.6% of students at the state’s four-year and two-year public institutions, while men make up 42.4%, according to statistics from the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.

The numbers here and across the country reflect a growing trend, and The Journal reports the gap has been slowly widening. Ten years ago in West Virginia, 55.3% of public college students were women and 44.7% were men.

At West Virginia University, the state’s flagship school, women have overtaken the men. Over the past decade, male enrollment has declined from 52% to 48%.

“Men are falling behind remarkably fast,” Thomas Mortenson, senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the study of Opportunity in Higher Education, told The Journal.

Academicians are starting to take notice of the shift and are beginning to study the implications. One is financial. Research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 2019 found that “the average college graduate with just a bachelor’s degree earned about $78,000, compared to $45,000 for the average worker with only a high school diploma.”

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But some young men are not seeing the value of a diploma. The Journal reported on 18-year-old Hastings, Minnesota, high school graduate Daniel Briles who, despite a 3.5 GPA, skipped college for a $500-a-week landscaping job, as well as side incomes selling music on a streaming service and investing in cryptocurrencies.

“There are opportunities that weren’t taught in school that could be a lot more promising than getting a degree,” Briles told The Journal.

A more complicated issue is the atmosphere on college campuses for young men.

“Female students in the U.S. benefit from a support system established decades ago, spanning a period when women struggled to gain a foothold on college campuses,” The Journal reported. Very few colleges are as attuned to the needs of young men, especially if they are white.

Colleges are reluctant to use resources to create support groups for a class of students who historically have been at the top of the privilege pyramid.

“As a country, we don’t have the tools yet to help white men who find themselves needing help,” said Jerlando Jackson, of the University of Wisconsin’s School of Education.

For years, this country has struggled with gender equality, and that issue is far from settled. Men still dominate board rooms and hold the most positions of political power. Labor Department figures show women’s annual earnings are 82% of men’s.

However, the pendulum might be swinging the other way, as more women move ahead of men in post-secondary education. Colleges and universities are now confronting a question they likely never imagined: “How do we recruit young men?”

Hoppy Kercheval hosts “Talkline,” on MetroNews.

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