2012-02-03 / Schools

Mind the gap

By Stephanie Sumell
Special to the Acorn


GENDER GAP—As with other colleges across the nation, California State University Channel Islands has continued to see more women apply to the college than men. The disparity between the number of male and female students on college campuses has been growing since the early 1980s. 
IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers GENDER GAP—As with other colleges across the nation, California State University Channel Islands has continued to see more women apply to the college than men. The disparity between the number of male and female students on college campuses has been growing since the early 1980s. IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers Peter Vegos fondly remembers his first math class at Cal State Channel Islands.

“I walked in and it was all girls,” said the 21-year-old environmental science major with a laugh. “It wasn’t a bad thing.”

Though Vegos said that attending a university with almost twice as many women as men can sometimes be distracting, he wouldn’t want it any other way.

Vegos isn’t the only male college student in Ventura County feeling outnumbered.

At California Lutheran University, there are 22 percent more female than male undergraduate students.

The ratio of men to women on the two campuses reflects the national average of 1-to-2.

According to the 2010 Census, nationwide there are about 23 percent more women than men on college campuses—men number about 8.5 million, while women account for more than 11 million.

It’s a trend that began in the early 1980s.

Lori Macdonald, a student working toward her doctorate at CLU, is exploring why many men don’t go to college.

The student gender imbalance is “an emerging topic in conversations around higher education,” said Macdonald, who also works as CSUCI’s coordinator of student recruitment programming. “It’s a complicated, complex issue (and) there’s no one thing that causes it. There are many factors.”

Athletes and rock stars

Kaia Tollefson, an associate professor for the CSUCI school of education, said the gender imbalance in higher education might be partially caused by the fact that, socially, women are more likely to follow rules and do better in a structured learning environment, such as a college.

She said men, on the other hand, are more likely to forgo a college education in an attempt to buck the confines of traditional schooling that often centers on standardized tests.

“(Boys) might think, ‘Why would I go on for more?’” Tollefson said.

She said men who’ve just graduated from high school may decide to take a path that does not require them to spend additional time in a classroom.

Macdonald said boys begin to determine what they want to do for a living as early as middle school and are more likely to seek jobs that don’t require a college degree.

She added that boys are also more likely to seek unrealistic careers, such as professional athlete or musician.

“It’s awfully attractive to be an athlete or to be a rock star,” Macdonald said.

But don’t blame the media for boys shunning college and seek- ing such jobs, Macdonald said.

“ I think ( parents) have a responsibility to monitor what (their) children are exposed to so they’re exposed to a broad range of choices,” she said.

CLU president Chris Kimball said he believes the gender gap is partially because girls, on average, do better academically than boys in elementary, middle and high school.

“Boys’ grades are lower (and) they report studying less than girls,” he said. “To some extent, women come to college better prepared to be successful than men.”

‘More job opportunities’

Kimball also said the gender gap in higher education is a reflection of the changing times.

College provides more opportunities for women now than a generation ago, he said.

“In earlier generations, the opportunities were much more limited around relatively lowpaid positions,” he said. “As that has changed, women have gone full speed ahead into higher-paid professions (while) remaining strong in other areas.”

Elizabeth Hartung, a professor of sociology and chair of sociology and anthropology at CSUCI, said more women are attending universities because more women are working.

“One of the reasons why there are more women than men in college is because there is a recognition that a university education leads to more job opportunities,” she said. “There’s a greater expectation now that young women enter the labor force.”

Tale of two incomes

Hartung said having more highly educated women “bodes well” for the future of men, women and families.

“It is almost a requirement now (to have) two incomes to be able to be middle class,” she said.

Hartung said the gender gap does not mean that women are surpassing men in their earnings, however.

“Despite the fact that there have been more women in college, there has been a consistently stable wage gap of 75 cents to the dollar,” she said.

The future

Kimball says CLU tries to have a close-to-equal representation of both sexes in its student body.

“I think most institutions try to get a balanced class because studies show that it creates the best learning environment,” he said.

Still, Kimball says he does not foresee men’s college enrollment and graduation rates surpassing women’s anytime soon.

“I think we’ll continue to see this gap,” he said.

Though Macdonald said more women attending college is “a good thing,” the decrease of men in higher education concerns her.

“We will hit a point in time where we’re not going have enough educated men in the world,” she said.

Until then, Vegos and other male students are just going to have to manage.

“I like having more girls,” he said with a laugh. “It doesn’t need to change.”

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