Gender Gap

Gender Gap

Colleges see demand for qualified male applicants grow as young women excel in high school.

By David Treadwell


Bolstering that view is a recent report by the American Association of University Women that says more men are graduating from high school and college than ever before. The report discounts the idea that there is a crisis in education of boys, saying, “Perhaps the most compelling evidence against the existence of a boys’ crisis is that men continue to out-earn women in the workplace.”

“Part of what we’re seeing as a model for masculinity in all of those areas of popular culture is very, very limited and is very anti-intellectual.”

- Margaret McFadden, associate professor of American studies

The group’s members were concerned about arguments by conservative commentators that boys had become disadvantaged and were being discriminated against as schools intended to favor girls.

It’s a dynamic that fits junior high, but could it continue through high school and beyond? How does it play out in Colby classrooms?

Queries to some Colby faculty members for this story resulted in several professors declining comment and others approaching the topic with trepidation. As one professor wrote in an e-mail, “I’m not sure how frank a discussion I’m willing to have on the pages of Colby’s alumni magazine.”

Elizabeth Leonard, the John J. and Cornelia V. Gibson Professor of History, said some of her department’s best and most accomplished students are men and some are women.

But Leonard believes that women do tend to be more comfortable being smart—and comfortable about showing it. “It’s harder to be a male student who’s really committed to scholarship and not be embarrassed about that,” she said. “The challenge is to create a culture on campus where academic performance is celebrated as much as athletic performance.”

Tom Morrione ’65, the Charles A. Dana Professor of Sociology, said he has found that women tend to keep their academic focus better than men. “They follow through on projects. They write more, and they write more easily on their papers.”

Morrione said he once asked the students in a class to raise their hands if they had an appointment book. “Almost all of the women raised their hands,” he said, “whereas none of the men did.”

It’s easy to “essentialize trends,” said Martin Connelly ’08, who interviewed students and faculty to produce a podcast for on the disproportionate number of women students in leadership positions at Colby—and possible reasons for the disparity.

Connelly said he doesn’t see a stigma attached to academic achievement at Colby and that in his experience women and men participate equally in classroom discussions. But he also noticed that, in group work, women students are most often tapped as organizers.

Could superior organizational skills in the increasingly competitive and stressful world of high school academics be one factor in the rise of girls in admissions pools?

Connelly didn’t know, but he has noticed one thing: “Procrastination,” he said, “is more a guy thing.”

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