Thursday, October 23, 2008

A look into the gender gap in higher ed

Inside Higher Ed reported last week about a new study by Linda Sax that examines some of the nuances behind the numbers of women and men attending college. We know, of course, how the increase in the number of female students has affected athletics, increasing the number of opportunities for participation in sports--especially in those schools choosing to comply with the proportionality prong. And, of course, we know that if those who proposed proportionality, in the late 1970s, knew that not that far into the future women would outnumber men in undergraduate enrollment, such a compliance measure likely would never have been considered. But here we are in 2008 with the number of female students still on the rise and some predicting the percentage to go as high as 75% women. (I predict schools will undertake--as some already are--their own version of "affirmative action" to prevent that from happening.)
Sax's work suggests a paradigm shift from the zero-sum game approach that has dominated the rhetoric that can be summed up like this: girls are getting into college, boys are in crisis. Her book is focused on experiences within education.
Here is a summary of some of her very interesting findings:
  • girls who participate in sports and physical activity get better grades; boys' participation has the opposite effect.
  • the more female professors at an institution, the better the grades of both female and male students
  • private schools foster, in women, greater critical thinking skills

Note that none of these findings are contextualized. I, personally, am more interested in why these effects exist and worried about how they could be twisted, i.e. women are easier graders which is why students get better grades. Or they are more inherently nurturing.

If anyone has read or plans to read Sax's book and would like to do a review for the blog we would be happy to have more information on the study.