Young Men and Old Institutions

The CSU Chancellor’s General Education Advisory Committee met early this week.  Debra David reported on the Compass Project and its goal of holding onto more at-risk students with a better GE transfer curriculum.  “At-risk” is usually connected to ethnicity, high-school preparation, or socio-economic status, but committee members observed that lately it’s the men we seem to shed fastest.

Responding to this concern, yesterday Bettina Huber addressed the CSU’s systemwide academic senate.  Bettina directs institutional research at Cal State Northridge, and authored a study I often cite when arguing on behalf of high-impact educational practices.

Her work on gender differences at CSUN and throughout the CSU is eye-opening.  Men come in more prepared than women — much more– but then they’re less likely to graduate.

No one should be more surprised by this than the men ourselves, to judge from our cockiness at entry:

So what gives?  If we think we’re so great, and test scores at entry indicate we should at least be okay, then why do we flame out anyway? Bettina’s research suggests it may be poor study habits, in place from high school:

And this is exacerbated by our generally anti-social take on learning, which strikes me as just the latest variation on not pulling over to ask for directions:

With the caution endemic to her profession, Bettina thinks these might just be causally related.  We come in with an inflated sense of ability, supported by the fact that we’re demonstrably proficient at the college-entry level, despite slacking off egregiously in high school.  Then college kicks our butts.

Bettina thinks if this is true, then the remedy may be as simple as requiring freshman orientation and college-success courses, particularly in the male-dominated majors, so the men can find out sooner that that college is harder than they expected.

That word “requiring” is key.  Kay McClenney of the Community College Survey of Student Engagement echoes the point made by George Kuh and others, that the students we most need to reach are unlikely to simply opt in to the good stuff.  If we’re not prepared to require it, then we might as well drop it.


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