Friday, July 29, 2011


Where the Boys Are

And the men aren’t.

Sometimes just a few statistics can tell a story. Here’s a pair I found fascinating.

Our students a year or less out of high school: 48% males

Our students as a whole: 38% males

The skew gets progressively more pronounced as you move up the age scale. By the time you pass the early twenties, the students are overwhelmingly female. But the fresh-out-of-high-school group is almost even. And to the extent that I’ve seen national statistics, they pretty much tell the same story.

Women will come back to school at any age. But with the guys, if you don’t catch them early, you probably won’t catch them at all.

I haven’t seen these data broken out by race, though I’d like to. My guess is that the gender gap is more pronounced among ALANA groups, but that’s just a guess based on walking around.

What I don’t know is why the older men just aren’t to be found here.

I don’t think it’s the “feminization of the curriculum” or any such thing. If it were that, I’d expect to see the older guys clustered in engineering and CIS. They aren’t; they aren’t clustered anywhere. And “women’s studies” barely exists here.

And I have a hard time imagining that it’s fear of women. If I remember my early twenties correctly -- the halcyon days of dual cassette decks and Doc Martens -- clusters of young women would have been a draw, not a drawback.

No, there’s something else.

I’ve heard two theories that have made some sense, even though they’re at least slightly contradictory. One is incarceration. Far more men are incarcerated than women. The other is employment; men are better able to find well-paying jobs without a degree than women, so the value they place on degrees is less.

Since the Great Recession kicked in, I’m inclined to discount the second theory pretty heavily. In my neck of the woods, well-paying jobs for twenty-three year olds with high school diplomas don’t grow on trees. And while the “he-cession” did narrow the gender gap for a little while, the narrowing didn’t occur at the higher ages.

Whether this is a problem or just an observation depends on your perspective. If the guys aren’t here because they’re off doing startup companies, then that seems fine. If they aren’t here because the place doesn’t seem welcoming, then that’s not fine.

Wise and worldly readers, have you seen a good explanation of the absence of the older guys? Is there a constructive way to address it, or is it just the way of the world?

Program note: Next week the gang is taking a badly-needed week off. We’ll be tromping through woods and going entirely without outcomes assesment rubrics. The blog will be back on Monday, August 8.

Mostly unrelated but one of the local cc's (2nd largest in the state)is now offering a course in masculinity studies.
Interesting... On my rural small population cc campus, I see a few older men buckling down and studying and it always warms my heart that they're willing to go back to school. But I bet if I looked at the stats, I'd see way more women in the ranks at ages higher than 24. Maybe it's that women do better in class assignments and have higher tolerance for the bullshit that naturally comes with college lectures/assignments. Men need to learn by doing, and community college lecture format just doesn't cut it. (Sorry for the gender stereotypes I've made here.) Besides the boutique grant-funded technical degrees "green construction," most of our degrees involve a ton of sitting on your a**. As a woman, I'm socialized to accept a lot of mediocrity and need for patience in order to reach my goals. Are men as tolerant of boring, process-oriented experiences? I'm not sure.

I think a survey in your community about why older men aren't attending your college could yield some insights!
Given my sometimes long delay between stimulus and response, you probably never saw this blog entry of mine about the changing gender mix of college graduates. Your data imply that the relatively flat output of men from college is a pipeline problem, which is interesting. It begs the question of why there has been no ed research on how (or even if) the throughput has changed over the last 50 years as the gender mix has changed in higher ed.

I'd suggest that one change to look at goes beyond raw numbers. The gender mix has changed dramatically by major, as any look at med school populations will tell you. This has raised the competition in what were formerly mostly male classes.

I don't have any answers, but I might argue that a CC classroom (and most freshman Uni classrooms) look a lot like a HS classroom. If anything, they are managed more strictly because we can actually throw students out of the room. If it is a "school culture" problem, where young men see themselves returning to the same place they failed before, you might see a bigger difference in m/f attrition in classes that are "like HS" in content or teaching style.
Examining the reasons why your older students did not attend college when they were younger might provide a clue.

For many of the women, I would imagine it could be early motherhood/family responsibilities. Those are transitory circumstances which generally do not persist through a woman's entire lifetime.

For many of the men, it could be something else (e.g., distaste for the regimentation of formal education, etc.) which may be more likely to persist.
I want to second Mary's suggestion.

Also, I think another issue is that what counts as "well-paying" depends on perspective, at least to some extent. I actually know a lot of guys (in my family, who I grew up with, neighborhood guys) who either dropped out of high school, never attended college, or dropped out of college after a semester or year. My sense, entirely anecdotal, is that it's possible for a guy without college to get a decently paying job (construction, HVAC, landscaping) plus maybe to get under-the-table side work that combines to make a "decent living," whereas the women I know without college are more likely to end up in part-time jobs without benefits (waitressing, bartending, for example) and with little opportunity for "side work" to supplement the over-the-table job. In other words, while making, say 25K a year might seem to us like it's not a "well-paying" job, that might seem ok to a guy who can also bring in under-the-table money, particularly if his day job has some benefits. In contrast, if you look at a woman without college, her options are more limited - jobs you used to be able to get without college (clerical "pink collar" jobs) often now require at least an associates degree.

I think family also plays a role here: in my neighborhood, there are a lot of people who are in the second and even third generation to live on the street, so the grandparents bought the house in like 1950, paid it off, and while they live someplace else now, the house remains "in the family," so one of the sons now lives there with his family, and so on. If you stay in the community in which you grew up, I think that sort of a situation is more likely, for a guy. In contrast, when a woman marries, in the blue-collar world, it's more likely that she doesn't have the same sort of family support, so going back to school, particularly if she ends up divorced, is not only an attractive option but a necessary one.
There could be so many reasons. I wonder if part of it is social norms? In the past, men expected to be the ones bringing in the main paycheck - women could afford to go to college once their kids were older, because they had a spouse to support them maybe? So maybe that kind of social dynamic just led to it being very socially acceptable for an "older" woman to go back to school, since they've been in a better position to do so, but not so much for men? Solely based on my guessing though, no actual data. Would be interesting to look at this.
Also, data about how women are the majority of accounting graduates now is interesting...
I don't know if it's an issue of what CC's (or 4-years) offer or don't offer. I think it has more to do with off-campus, societal forces. I am NOT a sociologist, and I have NO data to support guesses at those forces. I would, however, be interested to see the data surrounding students, age and head of household status. I believe there are more single mothers than single fathers, so there may be more women who feel the urgency to increase their earning potential. (You would also have to consider the ratio of single-mothers to fathers in two parent households.)

Also, women tend to gravitate towards jobs in office/professional settings, which typically reward higher education. So a HS grad who works the front desk might clearly and frequently see a "degree=higher paying job" correlation. I don't think that correlation is AS prominent in manual labor environments. I mean, on a construction site, how often are employees told "I'd like to make you a supervisor, but I just can't until you have a degree"? I also think it takes a lot of willpower to change career fields. A warehouse employee may face a major change in environment & lifestyle, whereas the receptionist may "simply" be building on existing skills.

Again, I have no data to support any of this. It's a really interesting issue, and I hope someone puts resources into examining it more closely.
Such an interesting discussion!
The CC program in which I work has about 55 majors and only slightly more women than men. Three of the majors, though, are 50-ish/60-ish women who never had the chance to go to college when they graduated HS. They got married right away and raised families and now they have the time and money for school.
We had much fewer male students at the last CC I was at. While the dean and I talked about why this might be, it seemed there was no solid "one" answer. Men did earn more and had more job opporutnities in that area than women. The men I did get in class tended to be in their late 20's and had served in the military. A few others had made some mistakes in their younger past and wanted to now show their kids that they could get an education and get something better than a "crap job."

My husband took a long time to go back to school, but he could make significantly more money than I could for the first 7-8 years of our marriage. Many of the men I come across still struggle with needing to "provide" and feel like they are stuck. They want to go back, but other obligations come first.
I'm at a 4-year comuter campus. When I got here (1987) our split was about 55% women; now, it's nearly 70% women. And we're becoming a more traditional-age campus (median age of students is down from 28 when I started to 24 now).

We're also struggling with the "Why has this hapened?" question.

It sure isn't job availability for males. In 1987, the dominant local industry (steel) employed almost 40,000; now, it's 16,000. The big oil refinery has reduced employment from over 6,000 to about 1,000. (And output is up, both in the steel industry and at the refinery.)

In 1987, the business school (where I am) was 60% men; now it's 60% women.

If someone finds some research (or does some) on this issue, please make sure you post a link here, or inform DD so he can do a follow-up.
Thanks for that observation, Dr. Crazy. I grew up in a "mixed collar" neighborhood and HS, but I saw some of the same dynamics in my HS cohort -- although that was at a time and a place where blue collar paid more than many white collar jobs.

Kellen, based only on the multiple plural of anecdote, I would say that almost none of the returning-student mothers in my classes are married. Returning-student men with children appear to be mostly married, but that could be due to anecdote sampling error. Nonetheless, family support (and supportive extended family) is an important variable.
Jrant reminded me that some of my blue collar HS friends had to go back and get "some college" to deal with statistical process control on the assembly line. That is probably why the lifetime college rate is higher than the by-29 rate in the graphs I put together on my blog a few years ago.

What little manufacturing there is today bears little resemblance to the 50s and 60s. It is more about programming a computer-controlled digital milling machine than it is about turning a wrench for eight hours.
In my experience, there are more good-paying (well, at least reasonable-paying) jobs for men without college degrees out there. Timber harvesting. Gas and oil field workers. Coal miners. Now a common theme of all these is that they are fairly physical and in not very pleasant working conditions. But they are male-dominated fields.

Incidentally, I actually have seen some non-traditional male students leave these fields to get a degree in order to attempt to move into management in these fields (but I also taught at a school that had a solid undergraduate timber/gas/coal program). Overall, the non-traditional male student does seem pretty rare, however.
In my experience, it's pride and ego, an incapacity to take the time to learn any system and how one might do well within it.

Instead, if we do not live up precisely to their (ill-articulated) expectations, they drop out and complain of the impossibility of success.

Or anyways, that's what it was with the older male students who I spoke with.
I agree with some of the ideas posited here and a few more:

i) Maybe the older male population is more highly educated already (due to the college rates back then being more heavily weighted towards men) so it's women who NEED to go back not men.

ii) Women probably undertook primary childcare responsibilities meaning men could have gone back at a time when women were caring for children.

iii) Agree with the others who've pointed out men often have higher paying job opportunities at the high school degree only level that are not available to women.

iv) The "good ol' boys" network still exists. Many men succeed in getting jobs in this way where education is often the only way women see themselves getting into these jobs as they do not have the same connections.

v) Agree with PunditisMaximus: women are used to being humble and dealing with being on the lower end of the ladder. Even professional women who've worked for many years are very used to having people above them and being told that being too confident or not accepting criticism or not learning to work around others is being "uppity". Men are trained (by society, not blaming men here) to be competitive not cooperative. Going back to school and learning from others does not fit into this style. Many unemployed men were at the top of their game before and still not at terms with it. They are looking for similarly high level respect positions. Women are used to having to start over (and often have fewer choices in providing for family to do so) and are more willing to be humble and learn from others for a few years.
"Timber harvesting. Gas and oil field workers. Coal miners."

I have never met any people in these jobs in my life, and I don't think many people in major metro areas have, either. Those may be decent-paying jobs, but they're not in the urban/suburban areas where the vast majority of Americans live.
I have never met any people in these jobs in my life, and I don't think many people in major metro areas have, either.

Depends on where you live, doesn't it? Some metro areas have quite a few people who work in those jobs, or in industries closely related to those jobs.

I live in a major metro area (5 million people) and I know people in all those jobs (or who have done all those jobs).
Some jobs that you can get (if you know the right people) in an urban area without college experience, indeed sometimes without a diploma, are auto mechanic, HVAC, and plumber/carpenter/electician assistant. Also, movers and furniture delivery. All these jobs also offer opportunities for work on the side and a few of them can lead to a higher earning potential with education that would not necessarily be through college courses.

It may be different in other areas but in my area these jobs are dominated by men.
I agree with others who point out that men can still get decent-paying jobs that don't require an Associates degree, but pretty much all pink collar work (except waitressing)--health care, early childhood education, cosmetology, low level office work--now requires some kind of degree or certification beyond a basic HS diploma.

I'd also guess that women are more likely to be single parents supporting kids. As someone pointed out earlier, 25K a year when you're a single guy who's not supporting dependents is livable. When you're a single parent supporting a whole household, you need to be making more than that, so you need the degree. A friend who teaches community college English says that his best students are working mothers. Those ladies are motivated and do not mess around.
I really liked this post. Some times statistics can lead you to an interesting analysis.
The vast majority of older college students I've taught were women and of those, the majority were divorced. I think this is a natural opportunity to rethink one's life choices but it also means, for many of them, becoming head of household. The opportunity to earn more money (in the kind of jobs Dr. C describes) has a concrete appeal for these women.
Quite true in case of boys- most prefer to dropout & have plans o earning quick bucks! & many have plans of entrepreneurship and etc.
There could be any reasons for the fall-outs.
Doesn't it seem that men are just quitting at everything? The smallest adversity seems to cause them to shut down. Maybe we need to start up a youth service system that gets young people especially men to routinely do some sort of work or service before they go to school. Did you know that Mormon men who do their missions are more likely to finish? Anyone who has worked with vets notices that their maturity makes them preserver. Perhaps they could be sent into internships before they start classes. We need to figure this out. We just can't afford all these disaffected men. We aren't different than the English, it just hasn't happened here yet, bit it will...
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