JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, the third report in our new series on education issues from grade school to college. Last night's was on Florida's mandatory testing for high school graduation. Tonight: The gender gap on college campuses. Lee Hochberg of Oregon Public Broadcasting has the story.
(Cheers and applause )
LEE HOCHBERG: The Seattle University basketball team took its lumps recently from the University of Alaska team. But Seattle U was interested in more than just wins and losses. The school had moved to a higher division in NCAA athletic competition in an attempt to lure more male students to campus. ( Applause ) Mike McKeon is director of admissions:
MIKE McKEON: There's a certain amount of identification with the athletic program, so a more prominent athletic programs-- clearly male athletic programs-- are going to help us to attract more men.
LEE HOCHBERG: Reporter: At Seattle U., A private Jesuit college, women make up 61 percent of the undergraduate student body. On colleges campus across the U.S., enrollments have become decidedly female. Some especially rigorous colleges are up to 70 percent female. McKeon says the gender gap reflects a serious problem with young men.
MIKE McKEON: It's worrisome. I mean, it's clearly worrisome. The fact just is men are not performing to the point where they're going to be going on the baccalaureate colleges and universities in the same number that women are. The women are going to be way head of the men, and it's going to result in some changes in society.
LEE HOCHBERG: Reporter: In the year 2000, there were 177,000 more bachelors degrees awarded to women than men in the U.S. ( Applause ) among African Americans, the gender gap is striking. Twice as many black women received bachelors degrees as black men. The research group Post Secondary Education Opportunity says lesser educated adult males are disengaging from the labor force, family, and civic roles. A Northeastern University study says the gender gap bodes ill for the future of marriage. "Since women seldom marry men with less schooling," it says, "one can expect well-educated women to confront a marriage squeeze." (Yelling) Some colleges are so concerned about the trend, they've gone far beyond tweaking basketball schedules. Some are favoring men in admissions decisions. The University of Georgia was hit with a federal lawsuit for doing that. But other schools, like the College of Essex and Franklin in New York, say they still favor men in programs low in male enrollment, like nursing. The List College of Jewish Studies in New York City says male enrollment increased when it revised its admissions catalogs to show more men. Seattle U is now trying that, and it's also recruiting harder for its business and engineering schools, which tend to attract more males. Admissions director McKeon says some colleges will go even farther.
MIKE McKEON: I'm sure that there are colleges and university that are giving them financial aid in order to persuade them to enroll so that the financial aid and the scholarships are biased in favor of men.
LEE HOCHBERG: These are all stunning developments to some female educators on campus.
SUSAN SECKOR, Seattle University: It's awfully hard to be 57 years old and to have your own personal history in education, as I do, and not feel just a little sickened and disgusted by this.
LEE HOCHBERG: Seattle University's associate provost, Susan Seckor, has long fought for women's equality in education. She wonders where all the concern about the gender gap was when colleges were majority male.
SUSAN SECKOR: There's a part of me that finds it outrageous and ridiculous that anybody would have the gall to suggest that when we're now finally willing to recognize and applaud the gifts of over half of humanity, that there is this reaction that somehow sees it as alarming instead of exciting. I think it's a sad day, frankly, and I think it's a disgusting day.
LEE HOCHBERG: Her argument, shared by some educators, is that the gender gap isn't a problem at all; it's a female success story. As young women overcome the barriers of discrimination, they've surged to their natural level, which just might be higher than that of young men.
MIKE McKEON: There are those that would argue that women mature at a higher rate, perhaps that they are less likely to procrastinate so that they're more disciplined. It's not a popular opinion, but I think there's a lot of truth in that generalization.
LEE HOCHBERG: But the gender gap may be less about female success than male failure, and the failure of "K" through 12 education. Family therapist Michael Gurian observed a second grade class in Spokane recently.
MICHAEL GURIAN: The boys, they just won't produce as many words. They just don't have as many verbal forms of the brain producing as many words.
LEE HOCHBERG: Gurian, who wrote "Boys and Girls Learn Differently," believes male brains are slower to absorb the language-based lessons typical of grades "k" through 12.
MICHAEL GURIAN: Education has become very reading oriented, very writing oriented. So, as education becomes more verbal, more and more male brains are going to opt out, because it does not fit the biological brain system these guys are born with.
LEE HOCHBERG: He says teachers should allow some boys to illustrate their ideas, rather than write about them. And he says if schools are to keep boys engaged, they need to create, as Spokane's Balboa Elementary School does, ways for them to work off their energy in the classroom.
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MICHAEL GURIAN: In a classroom that isn't set up as well for that, it's going to have the Ritalin thing, going to have the conduct disorder, the ADD, the ADHD-- a lot of that stuff's going to creep into that classroom because simply the boys aren't built for these long, these 40-minute lessons about something.
LEE HOCHBERG: This Washington state brother and sister say Gurian is right, but they say there's also an economic component to the gender gap. 23-year-old Justin Avila did struggle in high school and does hate the thought of higher ed. He'll soon be making $20 an hour in his job as an electrician.
JUSTIN AVILA, Apprentice Electrician: I don't like the pressure, I don't like reading very much, I don't... I couldn't stand going to school.
LEE HOCHBERG: But his 26-year-old sister Sherra says she didn't like school much either, but she focused on college anyway, believing it's the only way for a woman to earn good money. She's a month away from getting her bachelors agree at Seattle U., with plans to earn teaching credentials.
SHERRA AVILA: Being a receptionist, you can't make very good money and you can't make very good money as a teller, and those are good jobs for someone without a college education. Otherwise it'd be retail, and did that when I was 16, and, you know, you can't make any money doing that.
LEE HOCHBERG: Young men like these, attending a men's forum at Pierce College near Tacoma, Washington, say the gender gap is just a matter of support. They say more men would go to college if they got the encouragement women have gotten in recent years.
SPOKESMAN: Societal pressure is not equal. It's saying, "go, girls. Guys, you will survive." It's just saying, you know, "Go for it, girls, and, guys, just manage."
LEE HOCHBERG: Instructor Bret Burkholder began the forums after noticing college dropout rates are twice as high for men than for women. He says colleges with their women's centers and women's curricula, offer support for women that men don't get. Just as young women were disadvantaged 30 years ago, he says young men are disadvantaged today.
BRET BURKHOLDER: We have made it a point to encourage girls and women. We haven't done the same thing for guys. Two people starting off swimming in the pool, you hand this person a life raft and a life preserver, and this person gets the life preserver that's half inflated and we're just not really going to pay attention to their progress, who do you think is going reach the shore first and be safe? See?
LEE HOCHBERG: The controversy likely will get hotter as liberal arts colleges become only more female. Colleges say they'll try to counter the trend by further advantaging men. Perhaps the slow economy will even things out. Justin Avila, coming to dislike the on-and-off nature of his job, says he's thinking about going to college after all, though he's sure he won't like it.