Posted by: Allyson | August 27, 2008

All-Male Colleges and Declining Enrollments

Male enrollments in colleges and universities have been in a general decline around the United States.  And all-male colleges are really feeling the pinch.  Inside Higher Ed recently reported about the struggles that St. John’s University, an all-male school in Minnesota, has been working to overcome. I appreciate the initiative their taking to study and remedy declining enrollments; they’re not blaming women or feminism, but trying to get to the substantial root of the problem.  However, some of theire new strategies they’ve created to recruit men to the university don’t quite sit right with me.

The university has been proactive in trying to handle their own admissions issues:

To address these concerns, Saint John’s has created a task force to look at male enrollment issues, and has been collecting data among the university’s students to find out what makes men tick. The university also helps organize annual conferences for men’s colleges, placing the onus on all-male institutions to confront issues like enrollment decline.

Good for them.  I’m glad to see that they’re not going around saying “teh feminazies are destroyin teh menz!!!111”  They’re actively working to find out why men are choosing not to enroll at all-male institutions, as well as why male enrollment is declining in general.  They recognize that it’s not because women have pushed men out, and they’re trying to find out exactly what the actual problem is.  So thank you, St. John’s, for taking responsibility for your own enrollments and not blaming women.

St. John’s partners with the College of St. Benedict, an all-women’s school.  The two institutions share an admissions office, and St. Benedit enrollment has been exceeding St. John’s enrollment for almost a decade.  However, a description of admissions decisions has me worried:

With a total enrollment of about 4,000 between the two colleges, admissions officials say they have had to work to hold down enrollment at Saint Benedict — where they receive more applications — while being more proactive in recruiting men to Saint John’s.

While on the one hand, I applaud St. John’s proactivity, on the other hand, I worry about the enrollment at the women’s college being held down simply because St. John’s is trying to recruit more men.  If these are two genuinely separate schools, why should it really matter?  It would be one thing if St. Benedict had more applications than student slots.  But this paragraph makes it sound like St. Benedict’s admissions are influenced by St. John’s applications.  If these are two independent schools, why should one school’s applications influence another’s enrollment?  Why are female students potentially being sacrified for the sake of enrolling more men?

Plus, their new recruitment campaign rests on stereotypes about male behavior:

Saint John’s launched its “Play the Game” campaign. The campaign touts that the partnered colleges – situated on an idyllic 3,200-acre stretch of woods, lakes, and prairie — are ideal for skiing, rowing, fishing, running

“At least as an intro or as a way to capture students’ attention, we really have leveraged athletics,” said Tom Voller-Berdan, director of admissions at Saint John’s and Saint Benedict.

[ . . .]

But the emphasis on sports and recreation still has broad appeal for women, who have continued to apply to Saint Benedict in larger numbers despite the targeted recruitment of men, Voller-Berdan said.

“It really turns out that any male recruitment initiative really works better for women,” he said. “Everything works for women.”

So the school is trying to recruit  men by advertising atheltics, because all males are definitely athletic, and the only reason they haven’t been applying to St. John’s is because they didn’t think the school had much in the way of sports?  Way to put all that proactive research to good use!  You have clearly figured out why enrollment is down.  Men aren’t applying to college because there is a lack of raw masculity!  Furthermore, advertising athletic problems would NEVER persuade women to apply, because women just don’t like sports.  Nice to know that the new campaign is working so well, too.  It’s good to hear that male enrollments are up and female applications are down.  And it’s nice to know that your director of admissions thinks that “everything works for women.”  Way to not be sexist there.

But apparently, St. John’s isn’t all about machismo.  Allegedly, the school works to break down traditional notions of masculinity:

It may seem a bit perplexing that Saint John’s lures male students to campus by appealing to their perceived machismo and love of football, only to challenge those stereotypes during the course of students’ academic careers. The Center for Men’s Leadership and Service, which reaches about 2,000 students each year through activities, is designed in part to break down students’ traditional notions of masculinity.

Okay, I think it’s great if St. John’s is actively trying to break down gender norms through coursework and campus life.  That is absolutely fantastic.  I applaud any school that does that.  But if that’s the case, why on earth are they stooping to stereotypes in the recruitment process?  Why do people actually think this makes sense?  If the school is trying to create liberal views about gender, as well as supporting academic freedom concerning issues such as abortion and female clergypeople, then why are they compromising that vision by resting on traditional versions of gender?  It makes absolutely no sense.

Oh, and some of the comments in the thread are pretty depressing.  Lots of valuing traditional masculinity and blaming feminists.  I can’t believe there are people in higher ed who believe that crap.



  1. Hmm. Interesting to see you post about something close to home.

    The part about holding down St. Benedict enrollment is interesting. I’d hope that it would have nothing to do with St. Johns and would be more about keeping class sizes low or something to that extent. Interesting thing to note? StJ and CSB aren’t really that close geographically (comparatively), in fact they don’t even share the same interstate exit. StJ and CSB seem to have a very good relationship among their students, at least that’s my experience.

    StJs is very well known for their football program. Hockey to a lesser extent. At least that’s how I know them since I’m focused on those sports. Still, it seems a strange move to try and push their sports programs, since Division III athletics don’t have scholarships and St. Johns athletics are pretty well known anyhow. Maybe they’re pushing the other sports because they feel they’re not known.

    Very good to hear about them trying to breakdown traditional notions of masculinity. Definitely a good thing to do. I sure wish all schools, no matter what educational level, would have some sort of program like that. A program for incoming students would be a brilliant idea.

  2. Ha, that definitely is ironic that they use gender stereotypes in the recruiting process yet try to promote more liberal views on gender on campus. That makes no sense, and it makes me wonder if St. John’s might not be trying to look more progressive than it really is? If that is true, maybe that has something to do with why admissions/enrollment are down? I don’t know. The overall picture just isn’t convincing to me at all.

  3. As a recent graduate of St. John’s I can illuminate the enrollment a bit.\

    St. Ben’s and St. John’s are indeed separate institutions (single-sex dorms on separate campuses, two presidents) that share facilities (libraries, meal plans, extra-curriculars) but to clarify the enrollment problem of more females applying than males, it’s a matter of living space. There just isn’t enough housing at St. Ben’s to support more students. Thus, they have to turn away some quality applicants where, St. John’s still has space on their campus.

    For upperclass students, St. John’s IS the town, and St. Ben’s is located in St. Joseph, a tiny town with VERY limited housing options for students who don’t want to live on campus.

    Thus, at least in terms of numbers accepted to the school can be summed up very simply: there’s not enough space to house any more students. That’s why they’ve been working to add more housing at St. Ben’s.

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