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Joe Henry – Male students in higher education: we need a conversation

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Guest blogger: Joe Henry

There have been many conversations in the media and in education circles about the role that gender plays in student success and achievement. In the last 50 years we have seen significant and important shifts in female attendance and graduation from our postsecondary institutions across North America. As the father of a young daughter, I am excited that there are so many emerging opportunities for her to consider.

However, as an educator and someone who has worked in postsecondary education for almost 14 years, I am increasingly concerned about our male student population in higher education.  While postsecondary attendance is at an all-time high in Canada — with more students than ever graduating from high school — we need to consider the issues and challenges male students are facing on campus.

Statistics Canada reported last year that female graduates represented 58.2% of the total number of recent postsecondary graduates in Canada and that women represented 56% of all enrolled students.  The MESA Project on Gender and Post-Secondary Education noted that males are more likely than females to leave postsecondary education in the first or second year, despite the fact that both have similar attitudes towards the importance of postsecondary education. The issue was also explored by HEQCO in two research studies: Understanding the Gender Gap in University Participation and  What About the Boys?

In my own work in postsecondary student affairs, I have seen some interesting contrasts in gender: males are significantly less likely to seek out support from advising/counselling services or other support services than female students and they are generally less engaged in student leadership or co-curricular programming – both key factors for student attrition and persistence in higher education, in my opinion.

We need to reconsider how we look at gender issues in education. Specifically, we should:

  1. Refocus energies on guidance and career counselling for men. Too often, the lack of career clarity and knowledge of strengths leads to lower persistence in higher education. Males make choices based upon societal expectations or norms instead of their own areas of strength. And as much as we need to consider female access to male-dominated careers, we also need to look at the opposite.
  2. We need mentors and positive role models. Programs offered from Big Brothers and Men as Career Coaches (developed by the Halton Industry Education Council) provide young men with opportunities to talk and explore where they might go and what they might do with a career so they can develop productive pathways.
  3. Conduct further research into the specific challenges male students experience in higher education, including factors associated with persistence.  A one-size-fits-all approach often does not work.

Postsecondary education is more important than ever and we need to use our resources wisely to ensure that each student has the opportunity to achieve his or her goals and contribute positively to society.  Through addressing gender disparity in postsecondary education we can ensure that Canada remains competitive in the global economy and realize positive returns on the investment in higher education.

Joe Henry is associate dean of student success at Sheridan College and a doctoral student at Northeastern University in Boston.

Our opinion is that the opinions expressed by our guest bloggers are their opinion, and not necessarily those of HEQCO.

One reply on “Joe Henry – Male students in higher education: we need a conversation”

Hi Joe,

Great insight. I too have read a few articles on how boys are socialized differently today. This transition has left boys with little role models, mentors and direction. We have been more conscious in including both men and women in our peer mentors programs.

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