Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Why Do Fewer Guys Go (Back to) College?

Over here, Dean Dad wonders why fewer men than women are returning to college -- that is, why, in students over 25, the ratio of men to women is so heavily slanted toward women.

He puts forth a few guesses, none of which seem likely to me (more men in prison, more men able to make a   good living without a university degree, more women having babies straight out of high school), dismissing out of hand research that points to the notion that our culture reads school as girly.

In fact, I think the lack of older men enrolling in universities is partly due to just that -- that (some) men don't see going to school as something (real) men do. It's not that men are anti-learning, exactly; it's more that they're anti the sort of learning that happens in a classroom, the sort where you (a man) have to sit in a desk and get told what to do by some teacher who stands up front; where you have to take tests and get grades; where you have to act like a child, in other words.

Of course, I'd argue that's not what we're actually doing in any university worthy of the name, but most people who haven't (yet) been to a university don't know much about what actually happens in them.

Women (lacking issues about their status, or at least not having the same sort of issues about their status) are more willing to subject themselves to this for the sake of the goal -- for the sake of learning what they need to know to get the degree which will let them advance in their lives.

And that's the other point: men, much more than women, tend to believe they already know everything they need to know.  Much more than women, men tend to be confident in their knowledge base (even if -- or especially if -- that confidence is not justified).  So men, much more than women, don't think they need to get a degree.

Oh, they might know that they need the degree to qualify for some given job.  But they see it as a hoop they have to jump through or a base they have to touch -- they don't actually believe going to the university is necessary in any real sense; that it will teach them anything they need to know: because they believe they already know everything they need to know.

Men see education as a con game, in other words.

Women, being as a whole much less confident in their knowledge base, are willing to believe that they need more education, and are much more willing to attend a university and get that education.  They are also willing to work hard, believing that they need to work hard (because they are less confident) while men as a class tend to believe they already know everything they need to know, and so don't work hard.

All this is a massive generalization, of course.  I have plenty of male students who are excellent students, who work very hard, who have come to the university to learn and who understand perfectly the reason why they need a university education; and I have plenty of female students coasting their way through the semesters.  Further, I can go down any street in this city and find you a dozen women who would tell me education was a scam.

But if we're looking for an explanation for the gap, I think the socialization of our genders, and the attitude we as a culture take toward education, might serve.


Tree of Knowledge said...

I think you're onto something here, but I also wonder what the stats are on traditional students. Do women outnumber men there too, or could more men go to college straight out of high school than women? Isn't that part of why traditionally women return to college in their later years, because they either worked or stayed home with the kids while their husbands were in school? My lazy searching hasn't found stats on under-25 enrollment and graduation rates yet.

Bardiac said...

I think you're very on the mark here.

Gender might also play a role here: men especially don't want to subject themselves to female authority (which they expect because most grammar and many high school teachers are women, and because women are actually allowed to get terminal degrees and compete and such!)

My female non-trads seem to feel more at ease jumping in and mingling with other students than my male non-trads. But, many of my male non-trads are veterans, and I think they've got really different experiences that may contribute to their not feeling quite so at ease.

delagar said...

Tree, Dean Dad (at least) says the stats for traditional students are even -- that for 18 years olds, the number of men and women going to college are even. He's talking community colleges. I don't know what it is for state and other colleges. The data I'm talking elsewhere is out of date a bit; it came from a class I taught three or four years ago, an introductory class for our freshmen. (Also I'm working from memory, so bear that in mind -- I did do a rough google search, but didn't come up with anything very useful.)

I thought about the women teacher issue, too, Bardiac! I have noticed more push-back from certain of my gentlemen students.