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.

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