Colleges practice ‘affirmative action’ for boys because more girls apply

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Researchers have solved a paradox for decades: If American employers favor men with college degrees, why is that population shrinking?

New data from the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit research group, suggests that the gender gap in higher education is the largest ever: Men made up just 40% of students over the course of the year. school year 2020-21, while women made up around 60%. Men also accounted for more than 70% of the decline in the number of college and university students in the United States over the past five years.

In an attempt to keep the male-to-female ratio somewhat equal in their student bodies, some private colleges are now accepting a higher proportion of their male applicants than their female applicants, the Wall Street Journal recently reported.

On average, boys tend to have lower grade points.

“This overall lower score is what ends up hurting boys in the admissions process,” Jayanti Owens, professor of sociology at Brown University, told Insider. “Some universities have really started to recognize this systematically and, in an effort not to have huge gender imbalances in their student body, are practicing some kind of affirmative action for boys.”

There are many reasons for this admissions gap, but education researchers cite two factors in particular. First, the American education system prioritizes rules and organization over active learning, and second, there is a shortage of male college teachers and counselors, especially men of color. None of these factors are new, but changes in the labor market over the past four decades have given them new importance.

Prior to 1970, many working women held jobs that did not require a college degree, such as clerical or sales work. From the 1970s, however, the labor market began to allow women to access a wider range of occupations that required more education. As more and more women were encouraged to continue their studies at university, more and more girls applied.

This incentive to graduate – combined with the way schools are organized – has led girls to outperform their male peers. A gender gap in college enrollment has persisted since the 1980s.

Now, Owens said, many boys face “cumulative disadvantage” in school.

“It starts early and it gets bigger,” she said. “And when you apply to college, that’s very important.”

Girls’ rule-making skills can give them an early advantage

Masked children return to school

Bilingual grade three students wear masks on the first day of school at Montara Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles, California, Monday, August 16, 2021.

Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images


Boys who don’t easily acclimate to classroom standards may find it difficult to see themselves as connected to college.

A 2011 study found that girls start school with more advanced social and behavioral skills, while boys are more likely to have difficulty paying attention or sitting in class. Preschool boys are four times more likely to be deported than girls, according to the National Center on Early Childhood Health and Wellness.

Owens’ research has shown that behavioral problems seen as young as four and five can be significant predictors of whether boys will drop out of high school or decide not to go to college.

One of the reasons boys can be seen as behaving badly, she said, is that the early childhood education system prioritizes rules and self-control.

“You really have to have high levels of self-regulation and self-control to be able to sit there and pay attention for that long,” Owens said. “So that’s partly because girls are more able to do it, on average, and partly because you can ask teachers to respond to boys who don’t do it as troublemakers or villains. This can lead to a kind of fulfilling self-prophesying, that boys who receive this message end up doing more, partly because they lack the attention span, and partly because they feel better. rebel against the idea that they are not good at school. “

Studies indicate that teachers often rate boys as having more behavioral problems than girls. Plus, Owens said, boys often score lower on language and reading tests than girls – a gap that persists from kindergarten through high school.

It is not known why these academic and behavioral differences exist. Cultural and social conditioning probably have an influence. Young children can be brought up to view reading and language as female subjects, for example. A 2011 study found that parents are more likely to read to girls than to boys, and more likely to spank boys than to girls.

Challenges in school can also discourage boys from seeking academic help. A study of grade 3 public school students found that children who received negative feedback from teachers or who did not see themselves as good students were more afraid to ask for help than their children. peers.

“Creating a culture of demand for help and standardization from an early age can be transformative for students, especially for low-income boys or just boys in general,” Adrian Huerta, assistant professor of school education. ‘University of the South. California, Insider said.

High school students “find out too late” how to prepare for university

boys college enrollment

Deborah Sewell, who teaches an uncredited reading class at Montgomery College, answers questions from Isaiah Rodriguez during the class in Takoma Park, Md. On February 12, 2020.

Katherine Frey / The Washington Post / Getty Images


Boys tend to perform better than girls on standardized high school science and math tests. But these subject-specific benefits, regardless of the cause, “do not translate into overall educational benefits,” Owens said.

Instead, research has found that Grade 8 girls are more disciplined than their male counterparts – qualities that factor into their grades. Girls of all ages also demonstrate higher levels of classroom engagement. Boys, on the other hand, are more likely than girls to be suspended from public schools in Kindergarten to Grade 12 – and children in schools with high suspension rates were less likely to graduate from college, according to a 2019 study.

“You are seen as a bad kid, which means teachers and counselors are less likely to have patience for you and less likely to present you with unique college-related opportunities,” Huerta said, adding that “boys often find out too late what they need to do to prepare for college – they might find out during their junior or senior years that you have to take these courses, you have to take these tests.”

The pandemic has accentuated these trends.

“We are seeing this gender disparity in higher education exacerbated, where there are fewer and fewer boys in higher education due to the pandemic,” Owens said.

Financial constraints may force young men to enter the labor market immediately

High school students wear a mask when entering school.

High school students in Florida walk to campus on their first day of school on August 23, 2021.

AP Photo / Marta Lavandier


Some young men face an additional barrier to university enrollment: the need to support themselves or their families.

An analysis by the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, published in the Wall Street Journal, found that boys from low-income backgrounds were the least likely of all demographic groups to enroll in college in 2019. COVID-19 has exacerbated financial hardship for many families, creating increased pressure to enter the workforce.

“Financial constraints make young men say, ‘University is really expensive. Who is going to pay for this? Who is going to pay for my books? Who is going to pay for my car?”, Huerta said.

For these boys, Owens added, it’s often easier to follow a path that’s already been laid out for them.

“If you are a boy from a low-income family, you might have role models around you who have had trades or other non-professional occupations,” she said. “This is the example you have in front of you.”

More teachers and active learning techniques could be part of the solution

Kindergarten

Kindergarten teacher Mary Hoftiezer and the class fly like airplanes during a story break at Fairview Elementary School in Denver, Colorado, Jan. 23, 2019.

Joe Amon / The Denver Post / Getty Images


The U.S. education system is noticeably underfunded – but, for now, U.S. school districts collectively have access to billions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds.

“Right now is a critical moment in our national history,” Huerta said. “How are we going to use these dollars? “

In an ideal world, he said, each American school would have two or three college counselors, including men of color. The current national ratio is one university counselor for 424 students.

Owens, meanwhile, is pushing for funds to be spent on preschool education. She would like preschools and kindergartens to incorporate more active and practical projects and less quiet lessons. Recruiting more teachers at this level is also essential, she added.

“I would really invest in changing the structure of education,” Owens said. “So you both prepare the boys for higher skills that are rewarded in schools, and you simultaneously change the structure of schools to make them more boy-friendly. “

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