Wednesday, May 27, 2009



Last week, IHE had a story about a conference dedicated to addressing the relatively low rate of college attendance by men. Apparently, suggestions from the conference included gender identity workshops run by Student Life. And the comments to the article quickly became rants against gender studies, liberal academics, and the dangers of perverting the Timeless Truths.

Uh, no.

I mentioned a little while back that it's raining men here. The percentage of male students here has been climbing for the last several years, and the recession seems to be giving it a conspicuous boost. Male students are still a minority, though mostly in the over-21 age group. In the traditional-age cohort, it's almost even. I've asked our local IR people to run some numbers, since we have several trends going on simultaneously, and I'm not sure how they're related: our students are getting younger, more male, and more non-white. I'm not sure if, say, 'more male' is mostly a function of 'younger,' or if the trends are independent. Anecdotally, it seems like the age shift is driving everything else, but I couldn't prove it at this point.

(The AACC fact sheet doesn't disaggregate the numbers at this level, so it's hard to tell if my cc is typical.)

To the extent that the gender imbalance is mostly among the non-traditional ages, the line of comments that draws on Eternal Truths about Young Manhood seems misplaced. It's the older guys who aren't here. And even that group seems to be starting to find its way here, though the numbers are still low and somewhat sketchy.

When I was at Proprietary U, the student body was primarily male and about half non-white. There was a palpably different feel to the culture, though I don't know whether the chicken or the egg came first. The students – a self-selected lot, to be sure – were bracingly pragmatic and career-focused, and often struggled with the nuances of 'professional' culture. Speeding tickets were a constant topic of conversation. Teaching there involved spending a significant amount of time getting students past their knee-jerk cynicism about anything new.

It's hard to know how representative that is, though, given how aggressively the school marketed itself as career-focused. Aspiring history majors didn't go there.

The culture here is different, though to what extent that reflects gender, as opposed to a wider range of majors, is anybody's guess. Some of the issues still hold, though.

Rather than postulating Grand Unified Theories of Masculinity, the line of inquiry I think might actually be useful would involve figuring out how to improve the chances that the growing cohort of young minority men on campus will succeed. This is the group with the historically-highest rates of attrition, so the payoff from successful interventions could be quite high.

Going out on a limb, my first guess is that the most successful interventions won't be particularly based on gender. If anything, they'll be based on developmental math. That's where the attrition bloodbath always hits. (Women's Studies has little, if anything, to do with it. Basic algebra is the killer. Attrition is highest in the first semester, when nobody even takes Women's Studies.) Get past that, and all things are possible.

I've seen the Great Recession called the “he-cession,” since it has hit the historically male-dominated industries hardest. To the extent that's true, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see increasing numbers of men coming back to school in the next few years. The unionized blue-collar aristocracy has taken a direct hit in this recession, and there's no sign of the hit being temporary. What was once a fairly viable alternative to college, isn't anymore. Yes, far too many men will be diverted into the criminal justice system – that's another post entirely – and some will find success through the military or small business. But the huge numbers who used to be able to make a decent living working for somebody else without first getting a degree are losing that option. We're already seeing more of them here, and I'd be surprised if the trend didn't continue.

All of this is by way of asking that we get past the silly and tiresome pc battles and look at facts on the ground. This isn't about feminazis or Jungian verities or literary theory. It's about math, and jobs, and financial aid, and alternatives. Get serious about addressing those, and the political kabuki will be revealed for what it is. The men will find their way here. The trick will be in enabling them to succeed here.

I don't know how you could read even one of those comments on the IHE article. Those are some angry, angry men.

Anyway, to your point, math. I think it goes back to pre-college. School, especially the more difficult parts of it, is not cool. And many of the schools your students are coming from, even many of the better public schools, do a poor job of providing not just the tutoring support but the emotional support necessary to make it through the hard stuff. Perhaps that's where you can help. Tutoring, group sessions, etc. could be very beneficial.

BTW, I bet when you do get those older men, you'll have some combination of men who will give it their all no matter what and they'll be great role models and those who are angry and bitter. Should be interesting.
I'm thinking about the few folks I know who are adults with good jobs and no college degrees. Most of them are male in technical-support kinds of positions. They make more than I do.

I have to wonder if the absence of men at many levels is because men have been able to get reasonable jobs without college educations? Those jobs tended to pay more than jobs women generally got, so there was no need for the men to go to college. Once times got more difficult, those jobs also tended to go away -- and when those men decide they need more education, they'll tend to go to community colleges.
And the comments to the article quickly became rants against gender studies, liberal academics, and the dangers of perverting the Timeless Truths.This accurately describes the comments field to every article I've ever read at IHE. How did that place become an oasis for anti-intellectual right-wingers?
Your observations about "raining men" at your CC support the article, not contradict it. I would expect more men (who do worse in high school) to attend open enrollment schools. Similarly, when men fail at 4-year schools then CC is even more attractive. Hence declining numbers at 4-year schools and increasing numbers at CC.

You're right that minority men offer the most scope for improvement (but "minority" is just a euphamism, isn't it? What percent of Asians or Jews end up in your developmental math classes, compared to whites, blacks or hispanics?), and the whole "masculinity" theme in the article/comments was pretty stupid (I can only assume the "take a women's studies course" line was self-parody). Still, I don't think we should dismiss it so quickly.

This issue is one that I struggle with myself. Each semester my colleagues and I survey our Research Methods students (a required course), and we find that even controlling for study time and class attendance, women do better. Every semester, by a statistically significant amount (and if men lie about their study habits, the gap is even larger). This matches national research. Should I say "skip the PC kabuki, I'll just teach math?" That's what I mostly do--and men do systematically worse then women. I've tried using more sports examples, and more hands-on activities, but I don't have enough data to know if they work. If anyone has ideas to teach men math, please share!

More broadly, should I say "whatever, they'll get a job somehow?" For decades, I heard about how women were underrepresented and disadvantaged at college, and how they needed support. Fair enough. They got it, and now they're doing well in college. But now that men are making the same arguments about being underrepresented and disadvantaged, you say "gender just isn't the issue here." I suppose there are abstract "hegemonic group" arguments for that discrepancy, but concretly, I don't want to look at the guys in my classroom and say "well, you're the dominant group in society, so I'll just keep on teaching in a way that disadvantages you." I don't mean this in the polemical way that some of the IHE comments were, but in a spirit of searching for a better way to teach.

IN RE the "jobs without college" issue, Matt Crawford's new book "Shop Class as Soulcraft" seems to speak directly to it and is getting good press, but I haven't read it.
From my experience, it depends on the discipline. For the past few years, I have been the only male--the only one--in my graduate program.

I was referred to by one female student as "the mascot" and when my last relationship ended, I was told it sent shockwaves through the department because I was such a constant solely because I was the only man.
For Inside the Philosophy Factory: Absolutely--I'm married to one of those men, and am friends with several more. I think it works because the technical fields offer relatively bright-line evaluative criteria in the work world. Either you can write a routing table, or you can't. You can diagnose a server issue, or you can't. In that environment, degrees or the lack of them generally don't matter much until the worker starts rising into the management ranks.

I just pre-ordered the book Rubashov mentions, and the blurb specifically talks about this sort of feedback. A motorcycle mechanic (which is what the author is) gets the same sort of real-time job evaluation: the machine is running well, or it isn't, and there's broad agreement as to what constitutes "running well". It's also very possible to learn to be a mechanic in a sort of iterative, semi-intuitive, self-educated way---many of the best mechanics do so, and they often begin before they're teenagers. It's a valid learning style, but almost completely unlike college.

If there is a gender difference in learning-style preference, which there might be, the massive rise in credentialism in the last 20 years would have disproportionately affected men. My husband says that he doesn't think he could have begun his career in the current environment without finishing his degree, and I think he's right. That would explain DD's man-tsunami: the guys just can't get a foot in the door anymore without the degree. And, if it took them until late in their high-school careers (or later!) to figure that out, the CC environment is going to be a favorite with them.
I read the article, looked up the cites, and read the entire thread.

So, we have an observed effect: More young men are choosing not to go to college (especially right out of high school) vs. the numbers of young women.

The "arguments" seem to be around three issues:

1. Is it a bad thing or is it a good thing?

2. What is causing it?

3. If it is a bad thing, and we figure out what is causing it, can it be changed?

I've been keenly involved in the debates surrounding these issues for several years. I have had in depth discussions with individuals and small groups in all 4 quadrants of the matrix (men who went, men who didn't, women who did, women who didn't).

I'm leaning toward the following answers:

1. No, it's not a bad thing. More [men who did go] regret the decision [to go] than those who [didn't go] regret their decision [not to go].

2. Lots of reasons; many discussed in the thread. The main reason may have more to do with the fact that most young men recognize that going to college right out of high school would be a ginormous waste of time and money for them- at that stage in their lives. They are making an informed (and amazingly self -aware)choice.

3. Almost *anything* proposed currently to "fix the problem" would either a) make it worse, or b) have bad unintended side effects, or c) both.

Many of the young men (especially in the small group discussions) say "I chose to work for a while until I could save up some money, figure out what I wanted to do, and get my head together. I'm not ready to go to college now, but I will go when it will do me some good."

And we think there is something *wrong* with this attitude?

Personally, I have bigger problems with all the young men forced to go straight to college as the "default" answer . . .
@Laura: "I bet when you do get those older men, you'll have some combination of men who will give it their all no matter what and they'll be great role models and those who are angry and bitter."

I teach in an city with a lot of traditional industrial jobs (Peoria -- Caterpillar, and supporting industries), and I get a lot of older men. They come in two types -- blue collar workers who have decided to advance into management or make a semi-lateral move or something similar (or sometimes who are empty nesting and have sent all the kids to college and are like, "Man, I kind-of wish I'd done that"), and blue collar workers who have been laid off and are retraining.

Interestingly, there's no difference in commitment/lack of commitment between those advancing and those laid off. It seems largely to be a matter of personal attitude. And those attitudes come almost entirely in two types: First, older men who are committed, approach school like a job, and are fantastic to have in the classroom because they raise the level of discourse among my younger students, make them treat it more seriously, and they bring a lot of diversity of life experience to the table. (I also get a hell of a lot less complaining about "Why do we have to write an essay?" from my 18-year-olds when they see a 50-year-old welder who hasn't written an essay since high school turning in higher-quality product without whining about it.) They are end-product focused -- they're not necessarily in my class because they want to be there, but because it's part of the process of getting the degree -- but they are professional about doing the "scut work" to get to the finished product.

The other kind sees school as an irritating hurdle to be jumped that they shouldn't "have" to put up with. They view it as secondary to other, more important things in their life and treat it accordingly, with poor attendance, skipped assignments, and a lack of respect for me in the classroom. (Which, okay, I'm 31, I look 22, and I'm a girl. I get it, you're a big manly man old enough to be my dad. It's still my classroom.)

I don't have any brilliant insights on how to reach the second group, but you are correct in that that's the two groups they largely fall into!
When I think about how my own kids are treated, I do worry sometimes about my son and how he will do in school. My daughter is surrounded by people who constantly tell her that she can do anything she wants to do. My mother is a doctor, I am a scientist so she has lots of role models to pattern herself after. No one makes the same effort to tell my son that same thing - that he can be anything he wants to be. In fact, he can only wear certain colors, has fewer clothes to choose from when we shop, and is entering a male culture that at least from where I sit penalizes boys who are smart in a severe and merciless way. Unless we can find a way to make geekiness cool for boys, I'm afraid that my son will have to choose between fitting in and doing well in school - a choice women used to have to make, to their detriment.
Lots of interesting points to discuss, particularly developmental (remedial) math, but I have a question:

Could you please blog a graph showing the trend you are talking about? Feel free to tweak it enough that your school remains pseudonymous while still showing the trends you are seeing.

My short comment about remedial math is that it is an easier sell to returning females than males, and returning students in general over those who are just graduating from poor schools and still buy the lie that they learned algebra in their "algebra" class.

I'll probably blog that last bit when I get a chance.
For YACP: That occurred to me, too. I know I've had many male students over the years who seemed to have the intellectual firepower to make it through college, but their heads really weren't in the game at that time. Some of those guys come back in their mid-20's, once they've figured out what they want, and do superbly. I have a few colleagues who did this and still succeeded as scientists.

Perhaps a more flexible work-school model, where education and work training both happen throughout adulthood, would be a better model for many people.
@Anonymous I think the same thing about my own son and have read several books about how the school system has increasingly required boys to adapt to ways of doing things that don't fit their learning styles. It reminds me to tell my son when he gets home that he can do anything he sets his mind to rather than nagging him about homework. :)
Just my experience:

The young men do worse on average in my classes, controlling for everything else, because they're intellectually lazy.

I use food examples, because everybody eats. I do use some sports examples, but that's because I like sports, so they creep in.

Excellence -- or even competence -- do not know gender. But if I've got a young man doing badly, it's more often because he just plain doesn't want to think.

The gender studies might do a good job of examining why young men might not want to develop critical thinking skills. I certainly have a theory, and it rhymes with "funexamined givelage."

Still has nothing to do with the fact that it's algebra that kills.
Now that I've had a chance to read the comments, I think the linkage to the IHE article confused the discussion. DDs problem is "what to do with a rapid growth in the number of men who show up", while the IHE author's problem is that men aren't showing up. Two different problems.

I agree with YACP about the benefits of going to college when you are ready, and not before. The IHE article assumes, rather than proves, that the low level of enrollment is "bad". I've known lots of men (but also some women) who have told me they would never have done as well if they had gone to college right after HS.

But what to do when they return, or arrive straight from HS because that entry-level laborer job isn't there right now? That is DD's question. I think the core problem is that, having been ill served by the structured system in HS, they don't seem to react well in the developmental classes they enter after eventually getting a GED or graduating with a totally lame diploma. Are they dropped into a group of classes taught by former HS teachers in the same style they hated in HS?

As noted in an earlier comment, I don't have an answer. I have some questions, however, and so should you. I'd recommend getting the IR group into a mode where they can give you answers in months rather than years, and see if they can help the faculty find what works for each cohort of students. What is unique about your students, your school system, their math curriculum, and your employers, that needs to be part of your solution?
Men and women are not the same (quick- someone call the New York Times).

- Anyone who goes to college when they are not ready* will underperform those who are ready

- HS guidance counselors shovel everyone on hte assembly line into college, ready or not

- Young women are, generally, "more ready" and "ready earlier than young men (for a variety of reasons, some innate, some cultural as noted already)

- By the time young men get "spiritually" ready they are still woefully underprepared academically


Young men should go from junior high school into a trade school. They should attend the equivalent of high school when they are ready (generally mid-20s, married with kids and motivated to support their families). Night school/high school for 6 years or so.

At that point, those 30 year old men are on a level playing field at university with the 18 year old women . . .


*"Ready" includes both academically prepared *and* emotionally/spiritually prepared
Of course, as was just pointed out to me by IM, we de facto already have that system . . . with formal HS years basically wasted today, no trade school and preparation for the work forc, and CC filling the role of the delayed HS for the married 20-somethings . . .
YACP, I'm not wild about this sort of gender-tracking. While I'm perfectly willing to agree that many human traits have different distributions in males and females, it is by no means true that a given woman is by definition more academically ready for college than a given man of the same age--just as it is not true that she is, by definition, shorter.

Cultural expectations can affect behavior, so I think we need to be cautious. It was not too long ago that colleges were refusing to teach women because it would cause their little brains to overheat, and they'd go sterile or crazy. (Now, try being a woman trying to excel intellectually in that environment.) Telling teenage guys that they have the emotional maturity of a ham sandwich and won't benefit from college until they hit 30 also sets a cultural expectation, and I'm not sure we want to kick over that rock just yet.

How much of "guyness" is biological, how much cultural, and what aspects of guyness are relevant to the college experience? (For that matter, what IS guyness?) I don't think there's a single answer, which is why it's not going to be easy to design a single program that will keep men on track academically. One man might be flunking math because he gets angry and frustrated when he tries to study, another because he's got three kids and is working 60 hours a week to support them, and a third because he's continuously hung over. All three problems are probably more likely to affect guys than gals, but no single strategy will help all three of them.

I'm more inclined to a model where several respected, productive educational paths are available: trade schools, traditional college, military training, intensive apprenticeships, independent study with a series of certification exams, etc. Right now, we have pretty much only one path to success, and it's not working for a lot of people. I don't think it's healthy.
I definitely agree with Dicty. I'm lucky enough to be academically talented, and come from an academically talented family. So I'm well optimized for the current environment. But I see daily how my students are not nearly so well served.
We would like to nominate you for a Best of Blog Entry.

Please visit our site at: to submit your blog entry!

Benefits include:
1) Permanent Backlinks to your blog
2) Fully SEO optimized for maximum exposure
3) A chance to be published into a top 500 best of blog book"
Thanks to data that showed up in a later discussion, I now have some graphs on my blog that show the apparent shortage of men on campus is not because the fraction of men graduating from college has fallen, it is because the fraction of women graduating from college has soared.

What to do to help men succeed when they decide to return to school during the Great Recession is the more important question.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?