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A Closer Look at Why More Women Than Men Are Going to College

A new study traces the growing gender gap in college enrollment to choices girls and boys make about which high school to attend.

The research findings, published in a recent issue of the journal Educational Researcher, look at the high school and college-enrollment patterns of 537,000 students in Florida public high schools from 2002 to 2006.

Overall, 65 percent of high school graduates in Florida immediately went on to a 2-year or 4-year college, but 70 percent of females enrolled and just 59 percent of males—more than a 10 percent gap.

The authors, Dylan Conger, associate professor of public policy at George Washingon University, and Mark Long, associate professor of public affairs and economics at the University of Washington, analyzed why these gender gaps exist and examined where students attended high school. In Florida, parents and students often have school choice at the secondary level and the study discovered different enrollment patterns by gender, particularly among minorities.

The evidence of gender sorting across high schools was beyond what would occur if students were randomly assigned to schools.

Boys in the analysis were more likely to attend high schools that appear to disadvantage them—schools that have a lower college-going rate. Girls may be sorting into more academically challenging schools, suggest Conger and Long, but they are not definitive about whether the schools are producing the gender gaps.

Differences in the high schools attended by males and females explain about 11 percent of the female college-going advantage over males. But the high school effects explained larger portions of the gender gaps in college entry for minority students.

The study found across-school gender sorting explained 12 percent of Hispanic female's higher college-going rates and 16 percent of black female students' higher rates of enrollment.

The researchers said they were unable to determine why boys and girls select into these different types of schools. But the findings have implications for policymakers in the future, particularly with the rise in same-sex school environments. The authors' previous research found that counties where a larger share of students attend private, magnet, charter, and irregular public schools have higher levels of gender-sorting across schools.

This issue merits further attention, the study notes, as the National Center for Education Statistics projects enrollment for women will increase by 21 percent by 2019, but only 12 percent for men.

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