At Santa Rosa Junior College, the number of female students has been fast declining.
Women still make up most of the student body, as they have for decades. But their ranks have dwindled at a faster rate than male classmates as tough times and class cuts reduce their enrollment.
From fall 2008 to fall 2011, the number of women taking at least one class through the college dropped 24 percent, double the decrease in male students, a trend that administrators can't totally explain.
A large portion of the drop clearly stems from wholesale cuts to non-credit offerings, especially the older-adult program, which drew far more women than men to classes such as memoir writing and watercolor painting, said Mary Kay Rudolph, SRJC's vice president of academic affairs.
To save money, SRJC slashed the program from more than 300 classes in 2009 to fewer than 20 this fall, a move that precipitated a 54 percent drop in non-credit students, most of them women.
But Rudolph said it's harder to explain the gender difference in credit classes. From fall 2008 to fall 2011, the number of female credit students dropped by 15 percent, to 12,935, according to the school's Office of Institutional Research.
Male enrollment in the same category dropped just 6 percent, to 10,796.
"We have a lot of guesses, but we need to get to the bottom of it," Rudolph said.
SRJC officials aren't the only ones scratching their heads at the issue. Last month, the California Budget Project, an independent think tank, presented a report to a joint legislative committee in Sacramento detailing ways the struggling economy has hurt women.
Across the state, the report noted, total community college enrollment, including credit and non-credit classes, dropped by nearly 130,000 to 1.75 million from 2007-2008 to 2010-2011, with women accounting for more than 80 percent of the drop.