The Boys Are Back in School: Why More US Men Are Enrolling in College

The Boys Are Back in School: Why More US Men Are Enrolling in College

Last week, Bloomberg’s Jordan Yadoo called attention to some new Labor Department data showing that American men are enrolling in college at record rates:

Of the 1.5 million men in the high school graduating class of 2016, just over one million, or 67 percent, were enrolled in two- or four-year institutions last fall, according to new Labor Department data. That’s up more than 6 percentage points from 2012, surpassing recession-era levels when the weak economy pushed students to stay in school and wait out the downturn. It’s also the highest share on record in Labor Department data going back to 1993 and in an alternative series from the National Center for Education Statistics going back to 1960. …

The steady rise in male college enrollment since 2012 suggests that young men “seem to have gotten the message” that securing a stable job these days requires more than a high school diploma, according to Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce in Washington.

Carnevale is one of the authors of a report last year that underscored the essentiality of a college degree in today’s job market, finding that the vast majority of new jobs created since the end of the Great Recession had gone to employees with at least a bachelor’s degree. Other research has also pointed to the need for men, in particular, to pursue higher education in greater numbers.

Despite the increase among men, Yadoo notes, women’s matriculation rate still exceeded men’s last year at 72 percent; in fact, women have been more likely than men to enroll in college for many years, reflecting the substantial number of men who eschew college for blue-collar jobs. A recent analysis by Indeed of the future trajectories of traditionally male and female jobs indicated that the “men’s jobs” that are growing are those that demand advanced skill sets and greater education, while those that are disappearing are mainly low-skill jobs that don’t require a degree.

In manufacturing, for instance, a shift toward automation means that today’s new factory jobs require highly educated employees with digital skills, rather than physical strength, which has made the sector more accessible to women than ever before, while also contributing to the increasing job market challenges of unskilled and uneducated men.

In the meantime, there are some signs that men’s participation in the workforce may be reversing its decades-long decline, Justin Fox observes at BloombergView, pointing to signs of slow growth over the past three years. It’s too soon to say, however, whether this is a blip or a trend:

Incarceration rates have dropped a bit in recent years, so maybe that’s been having a positive effect lately. Higher labor demand and some increase in labor market fluidity (median job tenure fell from 2014 to 2016 after rising steadily since 2000) would seem to be factors. Nothing much has changed in terms of the supportiveness of labor markets, though. And at this point it’s impossible to tell if the return of prime-age males to the labor force since 2014 is just a minor interruption to the downtrend or the beginning of something bigger.