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Closing the College Gender Gap

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If you have been following education hot button issues for any length of time, you've likely read about the nationwide push to better encourage girls in areas like science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The thought is that by showing young women that these topics are just as appropriate for them as their male peers, more women will find lasting careers in these traditionally male-dominated fields.

I'm all for more women in the STEM workplace but with all this focus in one area, are educators neglecting an even larger gender gap issue?

Nationally, over 57 percent of college attendees are female when public and private school stats are combined. Females have been consistently edging ahead of their male classmates since the late 1970s when the percentages flip-flopped. Aside from all-female schools, there are others that have marked disproportionate numbers. Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena has nearly 96 percent females in attendance, and the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center in Memphis has over 93 percent. At Indiana University Northwest, located just outside Gary, 67 percent of the student population is female.

There are a few reasons why more young women than men are choosing a college education. The first is that there are more trades that do not require a college degree that appeal to men. The second is that economically speaking, women earn a better living with a college degree than without one in comparison to men. Though there is still a wage gap (in 2012, women earned just 80.9 percent of the salaries of their male counterparts), women see the value their earning potential can gain from achieving a college diploma.

I hear people asking this question all the time: What are K-12 educators doing wrong when it comes to preparing young women for STEM careers? It's a valid one.

But based on the statistics I've listed here, shouldn't we also be asking this question: What are K-12 educators doing when it comes to preparing young men for a college education?

It all comes down to the weight we assign to the worth of a college education. If a diploma is simply a way to earn more money over a lifetime, then perhaps men are doing the intelligent thing by launching into the workforce early and without student loan debt. That logic is flawed, however, when taking into account the fact that blue-collar jobs are declining in favor of white-collar ones. A young man making a lifelong career decision today simply cannot predict what educational demands will be placed on his field in another 10, 20 or 30 years.

Money aside, there are other pitfalls in a disproportionate number of men going to college. Statistics show that marriages where the couples have differing education levels more often end in divorce than couples with the same educational achievements. And even before divorce is an option, women who set college educational goals may not want to settle for men with less motivation - at least when it comes to academics. If this trend continues, social dynamics may be impacted.

I wonder how much of this trend is based on practicality and how much is based on a lingering social convention that women need to "prove" themselves when it comes to the workforce. Do women simply need a degree to land a job in any field? If so, the opposite is certainly not true for men - at least not yet. Will the young men in our classrooms today have a worse quality of life if they do not attend college - or will it be about the same?

What do you think is at the core of the widening gender gap in education?

Dr. Matthew Lynch is the author of the recently released book, The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching. To order it via Pearson, please click on the following link.

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The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends and Technologies in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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