Low marks keeping Canadian boys out of university

Posted on September 21, 2009 in Education Debates

NationalPost.com – News – Low marks keeping Canadian boys out of university: study
Published: Sunday, September 20, 2009.   Joanne Laucius, Canwest News Service

OTTAWA — For more than a decade, universities have been puzzling over where the boys are as the ratio of female to male students keeps climbing.

About 56% of Canadian undergraduates in 2006 were women, according to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, a significant change from the early 1970s, when more than two-thirds of university graduates in their mid-20s were men.

In a paper to be released Monday, an economist who has analyzed the demographic data from a sweeping study of Canadian youth suggests some boys are staying away from campuses because their marks aren’t high enough to meet admission standards — and even hard work won’t bring them to the level of their female counterparts.

“We may have to start thinking of men as a disadvantaged group when it comes to post-secondary education,” said Torben Drewes, an economist at Trent University, where more than 60% of students are female.

It is already known that high school boys aren’t trying as hard as girls to get good marks. One of the reasons boys aren’t producing the effort is because they don’t want to go to university, said Drewes. He looked at data from the Youth in Transition Survey of behaviours among Canadian high school students, and the Programme for International Student Assessment, a study of 15-year-olds in industrialized countries conducted annually by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Youth in Transition found that about 32% of high school boys had an average of more than 80% compared to more than 46% of girls. On average, the girls studied 6.4 hours a week, while the boys studied 4.7 hours. About 21% of the boys reported skipping classes at least once a week, compared with 15% of girls.

Prof. Drewes created a mathematical model to look at what would happen if boys made the same effort to improve their marks. He concluded that increased effort would close about half of the gap in marks between boys and girls. The other half couldn’t be explained by effort alone.

“Whatever is going on in the high school system rewards girls more than boys,” said Prof. Drewes.

This suggests two policy alternatives if universities want to attract more males: motivate boys to do better early in their school careers and keep up the effort, or lower university admission standards so they can get in.

Prof. Drewes said he isn’t in favour of differentiated standards.

“That seems wrong,” he said.

Even if the school system succeeded in increasing the engagement of boys, it would still not be guaranteed that boys would want to go to university, said Prof. Drewes. Despite the fact that more women are now getting university educations, men still out-earn women on average.

“For some men, not going to university is a rational decision.”

Besides, boys choosing not to go to university is not necessarily a bad thing, said Prof. Drewes, who wrote his paper for a four-year Canada-wide project looking at the effectiveness of student aid, conducted by the Educational Policy Institute and the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University.

“That they’re not going isn’t a serious indication that there’s something wrong,” he said. “It is, if they are unable to go.”

The shifting male-to-female ratio has all kinds of ramifications on a societal level. Women with degrees want to marry men who have degrees. With more women than men in university, demand is clearly outstripping supply.

And it will have an effect on the professions. This year’s first-year medical class at the University of Ottawa has 102 female students and 54 male students.

Ottawa Citizen. < http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=2014098 >.

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