Rudy Taylor EDL 762 May 3, 2007 The Gender Gap in Higher Education In a January 2007 Chronicle of Higher Education article, Robin Wilson discussed the current gender trends at American colleges and universities. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education (2005), every year since 1979, the majority of students in higher education have been female. Beyond that, the gap between the genders has increased every year through 2004 with only two exceptions (1982 & 2000). In 2004, 57.2% of the total fall enrollment in degree-granting institutions nationwide was female (U.S. Department of Education, 2005). The strongest data on the gender gap, according to Wilson (2007), can be found in the American Council on Education’s Gender Equity in Higher Education: 2006 report. The report includes data illustrating that girls are better prepared (through college prep coursework), more likely to go straight to college and also more likely to graduate. In a widely cited article for Business Week Magazine, Michelle Conlin described the situation by saying that: For 350 years, men outnumbered women on college campuses. Now, in every state, every income bracket, every racial and ethnic group, and most industrialized Western nations, women reign, earning an average 57% of all BAs and 58% of all master's degrees in the U.S. alone. … If current trends continue, demographers say, there will be 156 women per 100 men earning degrees by 2020. (2003, para. 10) As Conlin examined the causes of the widening gap in academic success between the genders, she touched on several contributing factors: slower development, misdiagnosis for ADHD or learning disabilities, lack of male mentors, and a changing educational system that in an effoert to help girls, has forgotten the boys (2003). Is the Problem Real? This issue of a gender gap is a delicate subject in that the underrepresented population (men) is in fact a traditional power-holder in society. With that said, not everyone sees the gender gap as a problem – women like Catherine Hill, director of research for the American Association of University Women, consider the calls to ‘Save Our Sons’ more of a manifestation of some people’s “discomfort with women’s achievement” (as cited in Wilson, 2007, para. 7). Critics of the Gender Gap Crisis will point out that the number of men enrolling in higher education is increasing and men continue to out-earn their female counterparts after college (Wilson, 2007). Jacqueline King, director of the American Council on Education’s Center for Policy Analysis, posits that the overall gender gap is a byproduct of deeper problems that exist along racial and socioeconomic status lines (King, 2000). King criticizes people such as Tom Mortenson, whom claim a Gender Gap Crisis, for being too simplistic in their analyses. King claims that “there is not a generalized educational crisis among men, but there are pockets of real problems. In particular, African-American, Hispanic, and low-income males lag behind their female peers in terms of educational attainment and are far outpaced by white, Asian-American, and middle-class men and women” (King, 2000, p.2). According to King’s source data (U.S. Department of Education 1995-96), the gender gap among students 24 years old and younger was within 5% for middle and upper class whites students, as well as upper class Hispanic and Asian American students. The major discrepancies (14% or more) were found in lower class Hispanic Americans as well as both upper and lower class African Americans. Most notable was the 3-to-1 ratio of lower class African American females to males (2000). Some Best Practices Regardless of where the discrepancies lie, the overwhelming reality is that men, while they outnumber women by 800,000 in the 18-24 year old age group, are earning far fewer college degrees (Vickers, 2006). In response to the problem, many institutions have instituted programs to attract more male students and help them succeed once enrolled. In order to entice more male applicants, some colleges are adding programs in male preferred fields such as computers and engineering or building football and other sports programs. Some practices are more subtle such as changing the colors of admissions materials to more primary colors or including more pictures and success stories that include male alumni (Wilson, 2007). This can be a slippery slope as an institution does not want to appear to be favoring one gender over the other (especially the societal power-holder) to the point of an unfair advantage. The key is, as Gar E. Kellom, Director of the St. John’s University Men’s Center, asked “How might one focus on engaging men while not diminishing the positive and important momentum in the improvement of education for college women?” (2004, p. 1). Probably more valuable and more cost effective than attracting more male students, is the practice of retaining the male students that have already matriculated. Some best practices highlighted at a 2006 Ohio College Personnel Association conference included the following: Indiana Wesleyan University’s Mentoring program, Dartmouth College’s Men’s forum/support group, Saint Johns University’s Men’s issues speaker series, Ohio State University’s Virtual Men’s Center, and University of Richmond’s RC Xtreme living-learning community (Lumpkin & Paquette, 2006). One of the best examples of how to combat the negative effects of the gender gap in higher education is the Morgan State University Morgan M.I.L.E. (Male Initiative on Leadership and Excellence) program. Morgan State is a HBCU in urban Maryland with 7,000 students of which 90% are African American. In 2005, the female gender represented 56% of the campus population. In addition, six year graduation rates the 1997, 98 and 99 female cohorts were 49%, 48% and 46% respectively compared to the male rates of 31%, 34% and 27% in the same years (De Sousa, 2007). The Morgan MILE program is a comprehensive male engagement program aimed at increasing student success by connecting male students to the institution and each other through educationally purposeful experiences, civic engagement, interpersonal relationships and character building activities. In an external assessment by Chickering in 2006, participants were noted to have been able to seek help when needed and overcome issues of pride and ego. Today, student who have participated in both cohorts have earned progressively higher grades than before they began the program (De Sousa, 2007). Conclusion As practitioners in Higher Education we little control over the educational environment of the K-12 system. This limitation greatly hinders what we can do to increase the number of male students enrolling in our colleges and universities. I believe we must focus our energies and resources on understanding what specifically our male students need to be successful in similar way to how we would any other demographic of at risk students. If this means special programs aimed at males in general or a specific socioeconomic and racial subset of the male gender, that should be determined at an institutional level not a national one. What do the best practices highlighted above have in common? They specifically focus on engaging the male population they serve. Safe zones of interpersonal relationships are created where shame can be minimized and eliminated in order to foster an environment of trust and openness. Some such as the RC Xtreme and the Morgan MILE incorporate physical activity into an atmosphere of cooperation. Others such as the Ohio State Virtual Men’s Center allow men to engage resources in private and on their terms. The key is that they are deliberate and built on the characteristics of the male gender. References Conlin, M. (2003, May 26). The new gender gap. Business Week. 3834, 74-81. Retrieved August 30, 2006 from http://search.epnet.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&an=9842162 De Sousa, J. (2007). Student engagement and African American college men. ACPA/NASPA Conference Presentation. April 2, 2007. Orlando FL. Kellom, G. E. (2004). Editor’s notes. New Directions for Student Services, 107, 1-7. King, J. E. (2000). Gender equity in higher education: Are male students at a disadvantage? American Council on Education Center for Policy Analysis. Retrieved May 2, 2007 from http://www.acenet.edu/bookstore/pdf/2000_gender_equity.pdf Lumpkin, C. & Paquette, P. (2006). Restructuring our thinking about masculinity and our approaches to male college students. OCPA Conference Presentation. February 2, 2006. Columbus OH. U.S. Department of Education. (2005). Table 170: Total fall enrollment in degree- granting institutions, by attendance status, sex of student, and control of institution: Selected years, 1947 through 2004. Retrieved August 30, 2006 from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d05/tables/dt05_170.asp Vickers, M. Z. (2006, January 02). Where the boys aren’t: The gender gap on college campuses. The Weekly Standard. 011(16), Retrieved June 15, 2006 from http://www.weeklystandard.com/Utilities/ printer_preview.asp?idArticle=6531&R=ED9E343C7 Wiens, K. (2005). The new gender gap: What went wrong?. Journal of Education. 186(3) p11-27. Retrieved Wednesday, May 01, 2007 from the Academic Search Premier database. Wilson, R. (2007). The new gender divide. Chronicle of Higher Education, 53(21), A36- A39. Retrieved Tuesday, May 01, 2007 from the Academic Search Premier database.
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