Sex, College Degrees & Campus Equity

Andrea sent us a link to a post at Carpe Diem about the growing sex gap in college degrees. Current Department of Education estimates have women earning over 60% of all college degrees within 8 years:

Sex, College Degrees & Campus Equity

A breakdown by type of college degree:

Sex, College Degrees & Campus Equity

Nothing new there, in that scholars have been aware of this pattern for a while now. The author of the post on Carpe Diem uses this data to thus argue that women's centers are no longer needed on campuses. He also asks,

Didn't the "journey toward equity" that is mentioned in the book [he discussed] end back in 1981 when women started earning a greater share of college degrees than men?

This comes down to a question of what equality would mean. Does equality mean simply that men and women make up about half of those in any given institution? What about the continuing differences in the types of majors men and women choose, with women particularly underrepresented in engineering and the natural sciences? Or that female college graduates still make less than male college graduates? Even among men, attendance rates vary greatly by race and class.

This isn't to say that we shouldn't be concerned that the gap is increasing, or that it doesn't matter if men aren't going to college at the same rates women are. But a bean-counting attitude toward issues of equity - that if there are equal or greater numbers of one group in an institution, they have automatically overcome any and all inequality - obscures a lot of information. For instance, a workplace could have very similar percentages of male and female employees…one group working as the lower-paid secretaries and assistants to the other.

My courses are overwhelmingly female. From that perspective, any inequity is in the direction of hurting men. On the other hand, my male students very rarely miss class because they had a sick child they had to stay home to care for or their childcare plans fell through. Issues such as sexual violence on campus, which affect female students more than male ones, might also indicate that paying attention to women's issues on campus might not be obsolete quite yet.

Anyway, I think it's an interesting case for starting us thinking about what sex and gender equality on campus would look like. Among other things…would men's and women's centers have to be mutually exclusive? Couldn't we address the needs of male students without seeing it as a zero-sum game in which to do so we have to take away services provided to female students?

This post originally appeared on the site Sociological Images. Republished with permission.

Sex, College Degrees & Campus Equity


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