Learning: Gender-Laden Outcomes

October 4, 2011

In today’s Chronicle of Higher Education, MaryAnn Baenninger has an interesting piece on gender differences in higher education (likely gated).  She is President of the College of St. Benedict, and also a psychologist.  Here’s her central assertion:

Women and men arrive at our campuses with different self-concepts. Their orientation toward academic work and leadership differs, and they participate differently in what we call engaged learning. Research suggests that college has little impact on these differences, or on helping students take them into account.

In general, men have higher self-confidence, study less hard, get lower grades, are less likely to study abroad, etc., etc.  The differences are striking.  She concludes:

As I reflect on these issues, I think about what has changed in my lifetime, and whether we are doing any better with gender. In the United States today, women have access to just about every educational opportunity and every career. But access doesn’t guarantee outcomes. A gendered culture, mostly in unconscious ways, limits women’s expectations for themselves and our expectations for them.

“Access doesn’t guarantee outcomes:” she’s right to point that out.  We can become too focused on access — and probably have.  But I’m also struck by — and troubled by — this from her opening, broad claim: “Research suggests that college has little impact on these differences.”

Baenninger wants college to make a difference in these outcomes, and so do many of us, but do we know what works?

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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