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.