Could misguided masculinity be causing college dropout rates?

College graduation rates suck! On average only 59% of students who start college finish.

Do the math. That means dropout rates are 41%.

Many factors feed these statistics.

  • Lack of pre-college preparation.
  • Fear of amassing tons of student debt.
  • Pressure of being a first generation college student.
  • Overcrowding of classrooms with no personal attention.
  • Depression, anxiety, and pressure to fit in socially.

Each of these issues plays a tragic, simply tragic, role in college success rates plummeting.

Yet, there’s more to this drop out phenomena than meets the eye? Especially for freshly minted high school grads of the male species.

Laden with the pressures to overtly perform, don’t show emotions, be a macho guy with the ladies (or guys if you’re gay), never ask for help, and suddenly, you have an academic recipe for disaster that is killing men’s abilities to complete their higher education.

Guy’s head off to college, barely fitting into their training pants of maturity from their adolescent high school hijinks, and suddenly, it’s sink or swim. Live on your own, manage your own money, make sure you handle all your own tuition and housing issues, score with the babes, act like you’ve got it all together, don’t be weak, and don’t forget to be a man, the way men are supposed to be. Yes, women have pressures too, and it’s not just a guy thing. Yet, for some oddball reason, the “be a man, man up culture” seems to exacerbate the campus environment quicker than you can say, “Wassup?” At some stage, with or without a degree, men march out into the world, with narcissistic, performance driven, misogynistic, bullying traits, as if those behaviors are the readily accepted status quo, and then we as a society wonder how we got male privilege?

Really? Do we honestly have to wonder where it all begins? Blueprints of authentic and responsible masculinity begin at home and are often derailed or perpetuated, when little Johnny heads off to pre-school, kindergarten, middle-school, and high school. Depending on the scenario, masculinity is a positive or negative force in a guy’s life. If the negative force is not reigned in with a sense of empathy, compassion, vulnerability, and self-ownership for one’s own personal actions, we then see bullying, dictatorial, control freakish behaviors, just to name a few. On the other side of the coin, when a guy is pushed to be ashamed of his masculinity because he is too soft, not man enough, or too sensitive, more often than not he ends up known as a spineless nimrod.

However, there is a solution that we, yes all of us, can participate in to rectify this crisis of male masculinity gone off the rails. We must all own that there is a problem, and it’s not just owned by the #METOO movement. It’s all of our duties to step up to the plate, and stop the madness of contrived masculinity, and start kicking misogyny, bullying, and discrimination on all fronts, to the curb of no return.

There’s no better place to start than with these three simple, yet monumental steps to address at a deeper level how to prevent male college and university students from dropping out.

    1. Give Guys Permission to Be Masculine Their Way – The days of “This is what being a man means” are dead, or need to be dead. Similar to the woman’s movement, that a woman’s place is no longer in the home, it’s time to stop believing that the man’s place is in the proverbial box marked “Masculine Assholery.”

Whatever contrived version of masculinity – a person’s own, or society’s definition – men must, a big MUST, be given the space, leeway, platform to define masculinity on their terms so that they can become their own man, their way.

Any overt pressure to be anything other than themselves leads to a fake, false sense of self, killing their most authentic way of being. Once lost to the expectations of contrived masculinity, you’ve lost the heart and soul of the man, the real man, that he is meant to be. Give men, all men, but especially college men, the privilege to define masculinity their way, a positive way, that leads them to take stands, have healthy pride in themselves, and be masculine leaders who lead with heart, soul, compassion, empathy, and understanding.


    1. Make Male Vulnerability A Priority – Being naked is fun, and scary, as is being vulnerable. Wait, did I just say vulnerability is fun and scary. Yes, I did. Truth is, vulnerability can be fun when you give anyone the chance to say, “I’m not sure,” or “I don’t know,” or “I’ve never tried!” The fun comes from exploring new ways of being. Yet, the underlying reason that men don’t dive into vulnerability is it’s not cool, safe, or manly enough.

Man up, don’t be a wimp, never let them see you sweat. All messages, that most men have heard all of their lives. Which begs the question, “We pound these messages into their heads, and then expect them to be open and vulnerable?” Probably not.

Now, roll forward to the college/university environment and we want college guys to say, “I need help,” or “I’m scared,” or “I’m drowning in anxiety.” It won’t happen until we make it safe for men to be vulnerable and teach them how to do it. 

Once the environment is changed, where male vulnerability is acceptable, then and only then, will we begin to see men step into more powerful places of masculinity and humanity.


    1. Create Safe Spaces For Men Show Feelings and Emotions – “Tears are wasted when men cry,” said no one. Yet, so many men are afraid to cry, feel fear, act weak, to show any type of emotion. They are supposed to be kings, warriors, magicians, lovers – or at least those are the accepted male archetypes. Then add labels like provider, leader, conqueror, champion, stud, etc. and suddenly the only feelings and emotions that can be shared and expressed by men are those that align with the containers that we put men into that signifies their masculinity. 

Fresh from the training grounds of elementary, middle, and high school, young men enter the higher education arena, weighted down by success expectations, and the impending responsibility to not show emotions – unless they are masculine, aggressive emotions. No wonder we have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and drop outs at campuses across the globe.

Yet, all that is needed is space. A safe space, created by all of us in humanity to allow men to express their deep seeded feelings and emotions, without judgment. No masculine shaming. No teasing. No bullying. Simply allowing guys to say and express freely how they feel and what they are experiencing.


For all the preparation, college applications, student loan forms, summer jobs, parental sacrifices, striving to make the grades, maybe it’s time to put a more human side on the expectations of college men and allow them to design their version of masculinity and success their way as the new standard of navigating their way through their higher education years.

Photo by David Kennedy on Unsplash

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