gender gap in higher education

This morning’s NPR show “On Point” spent the second hour discussing how women are overtaking men in the college scene in terms of attendance AND performance. The show is interesting because I think the host was pushing the envelope too far in terms of “what’s wrong with the boys,” but the viewpoints and social analysis are interesting. The gender gap is there in schools, and it’s interesting to see how these folks are talking about it.

Overall the argument seems to be that societal expectations have changed, and for most high school college bound women one of the main factors is that they feel the need to be able to support their family equally (partly due to their understanding of a boyfriend’s desire to not shoulder the entire burden).

The episode of On Point (you need mediaplayer or real)

American Council on Education article

There is also a series running in the NYTimes called “The New Gender Divide” with pertinent articles on both July 9 and 12. Here are some clips:

A quarter-century after women became the majority on college campuses, men are trailing them in more than just enrollment.

Department of Education statistics show that men, whatever their race or socioeconomic group, are less likely than women to get bachelor’s degrees — and among those who do, fewer complete their degrees in four or five years. Men also get worse grades than women.

And in two national studies, college men reported that they studied less and socialized more than their female classmates.

Small wonder, then, that at elite institutions like Harvard, small liberal arts colleges like Dickinson, huge public universities like the University of Wisconsin and U.C.L.A. and smaller ones like Florida Atlantic University, women are walking off with a disproportionate share of the honors degrees.

It is not that men are in a downward spiral: they are going to college in greater numbers and are more likely to graduate than two decades ago.

Still, men now make up only 42 percent of the nation’s college students. And with sex discrimination fading and their job opportunities widening, women are coming on much stronger, often leapfrogging the men to the academic finish.

“The boys are about where they were 30 years ago, but the girls are just on a tear, doing much, much better,” said Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education in Washington. (Tamar Lewin)

The pattern of selective male laziness and female frenzy that begins among young men and women in college persists long after graduation. Someday soon, I am sure, an evolutionary biologist will teach us how all this is hard-wired — and why it is worthwhile. But in the meantime, I’d like to suggest that there’s something more at work here than relative levels of skill or laziness or drivenness or privilege, though all that clearly plays a role. It seems to me that, from an early age, men seem to be quite clear about what expenditures of energy are worth their time. Like kids with A.D.D. (the majority of whom are boys), they’re able to spend great amounts of attention and energy on things they find interesting, but show considerable signs of challenge when it comes to tasks they find boring or personally unprofitable.

Is this really a problem? Women would probably say yes. But I wonder if we shouldn’t learn a lesson from the still more privileged and powerful sex — and lighten up a bit. (Judith Warner)

My question is this: why, as women, go to college? Do you think those reasons are intrinsically different from men?
As I see it, women go to college for as many reasons as men go to college. Some because of parental expectations, some in search of a great career, some in search of a high salary, some in search of a spouse, some for delight at intellectual stimulation, some for more depth of knowledge in a subject area… this list goes on and on. I don’t see this as being a great divide between the genders.

I do think, especially on the edge of finishing high school, that young men and women see the world a bit differently, and I’d argue that more women (no, not all) may be thinking in the long term than men, which would cause more motivation through the more boring parts of the college career. I do agree that things like the ability to make a higher salary right out of high school is tempting. Heck, that’s tempting across genders, and I have known a lot of people who leave school. The other point brought up is that more women go back to school in their mid and later twenties, continuing or building on their knowledge. Given today’s workplace, I don’t find that unusual.

What does this mean for the future? It means that it will be even harder for women to find good jobs because the idea of having a gender balance in the worlplace will be less and less of an issue.

What does it mean to you that schools may begin targetting boys more to get them to enroll/stay? What would it mean to you if there was affirmative action for men? (Not that this happens now across the board, but as something that we may see in the future)

I don’t know how I feel on this one. It’s a harder sell to me to install incentives for people who don’t see the value to go to school. You promote to them, for sure, you try to recruit them of course. What I don’t want to see is a lowering of standards for young men just to get them in the door. As it is our school standards are slipping. One of my favorite calls on the show was from a professor, and when asked about the change in the quality of students over time, the professor’s remark was that the general quality of student was undoubtedly declining, but the women weren’t declining as much.

His statement certainly reflects my feelings on the direction the American educational system as a whole is going in, and the implications of trying to get underpar students in the door, no matter what gender, is a resolution I don’t want to see happen.

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