Muskens: Boys getting left behind

It’s funny the things you remember and the things you don’t.

It’s funny the things you remember and the things you don’t.

In particular, I remember sitting in a fourth-year economics class at Simon Fraser University in 1989.

The professor said to my class: “Look around you. How many women are sitting in this classroom?” There was about one woman for every two males.

He was remarking on the increase in women university enrolments and continued by telling the males in the class to watch out, we were taking over. It was his attempt at humour, at least that’s how I interpreted it.

This professor, whether he realized it or not, was ahead of his time because if you look at current statistics, for every 100 women enrolled in college or university there are 78 men, according to Statistics Canada. Further statistics show that more women have earned bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees than men in the past 10 years.

So all those campaigns years ago by governments to improve the post-secondary participation rates of young women are finally paying off and the trend seems as though it will continue.

But should female enrolments outstrip male numbers? Shouldn’t both genders be pursuing higher education at the same rate?

According to the Organization of Economic Development and Cooperation, boys in many countries are not transitioning into higher education and are wrestling with fundamental learning issues. Findings are showing that boys fall behind girls in reading and writing and tend to have more behavioural issues, which contribute to higher high school dropout rates. The other downside to this is that if you look at the job losses of the last two years, you see that many of the sectors which lost significant numbers of jobs were predominately those who employed men. These include manufacturing and construction.

To put a number to it, a recent statistic pegs males as contributing to 82 per cent of all job losses since the current recession began. So what’s next? I suspect it’s just a matter of time before governments begin to address this problem as you may see campaigns geared towards boys.

The Pell Institution in the United States has created The Boys Initiative.

According to their website it is a groundbreaking national campaign whose goal is to shed light on trends pertaining to boys’ underachievement and young men’s “failure to launch.”

Contributing to this failure to launch are a number of variables, according to this organization. These include increases in the percentage of boys raised without a father and missing out on that male role model. The other is the high percentage of boys (compared to girls) who are diagnosed with a developmental disability—according to them it’s two boys for every girl.

Yet on the flip side, boys have not been encouraged to do the same and enter careers which attract more women than men. A perfect example of this is nursing. At Okanagan College, we offer both the practical nursing and the first two years of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program.

On average we see about two males per cohort but have regularly graduated an entire class of women.

The boy issue isn’t going to go away soon, It’s about time we begin to tackle this problem and help boys stay in school and transition into college or university.


Jane Muskens is the registrar at

Okanagan College.