Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The missing men on campus

A conference report from Inside Higher Ed on the declining proportion of men among college students.

In terms of solutions:
In terms of strategies and recommendations, Edwards and Harris suggested first giving college men permission to stop performing and to be themselves. “It’s really about creating some kind of balance to the external pressure,” said Harris. “We talk about challenge and support, challenging the negative behavior.”

Edwards and Harris also recommended providing opportunities for critical self-reflection about what it means to be a man – “to disrupt the functioning of hegemonic masculinity” – including through facilitated student affairs programming and academic courses (a course in women’s studies, for instance). They recommended a need to build "cultural competence" for faculty and staff in issues of gender. While many in the audience lauded the transformative impact of small group discussions among men, one common point was the need for a facilitator who really understands gender dynamics.
A few thoughts:

1. I am pretty sure I know the sign of the effect of mandatory women's studies classes on male college enrollments. This seems like a singularly bad idea.

2. The norms against studying too hard, or at least appearing to do so, affect women as well. I remain quite surprised by how difficult it is to get undergraduates to talk in class here at Michigan (or indeed to give any public sign of being interested in the course material). Discussions one-on-one with students suggest it is all about norms and signaling. An odd equilibrium for a place where 1/3 of the students are paying 30K/year to attend.

3. It would be interesting to see how male student norms around work and public displays of interest in the material and related behaviors vary across majors. Certainly the computer science classes I took at Washington in my undergrad days had very different social norms than the economics courses. Maybe the norms vary with the fraction of men in the class? Or maybe they vary with the popularity or economic payoff to the major? There is lots of work here for enterprising sociologists of education and gender.

Hat tip: instapundit