Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

I remember reading about this widening gender gap in higher education years back. This piece (wherever the heck I read it) said that the higher percentages for women in academia weren't because of a downgrade in male learning -- it was because women were excelling that much faster. A bunch of articles I found online, including this one from Ms. magazine make the point. Basically, there is no decline in bachelor's degrees awarded to men; the equivalent figure for women is simply on the upswing. But here's what is really interesting: A study by the Center for Policy Analysis at the D.C.-based American Council on Education decided to analyze that college student date by age, race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status, as well as gender. The result? The gender gap that makes for such great, general headlines almost predominantly occurs among low-income students of all racial/ethnic groups (except Asian Americans).

The study is quoted in a bunch of news articles, including the above Ms. magazine story which states: "Middle-income ($30,000-$70,000) male students maintained gender parity with females 10 years ago, but since then the numbers have dropped somewhat. ... At the highest income level ($70,000 or more), though, men and women in all ethnic groups attend college in nearly equal numbers."

Keeping with that thought -- and this news doesn't really surprise me as I live in a rural, tourism-trade-dependent county --but this excellent article (like all of Salon's stuff, it's free if you click the ad option), notes, in small part, that the fields currently seeing the best growth are in healthcare, education, leisure and travel and the services -- all areas that women have more historical success at than men. Maybe this gender gap, even if seen through some broad data, is a simple reflection on our changing economy.

I'd never heard this but a sidebar on that same Ms. magazine article asks if shrinking financial aid will affect the gender gap. Apparently, the Department of Education started using new data in 2005 to help calculate the amount of money a family could be expected to afford for college tuition which determines how much federal grant or loan money they get. And because half of women in college receive federal aid, compared to 42 percent of men, this could slightly tilt the balance. According to the Center for Policy Analysis at the American Council on Education, women are more often eligible for aid because they are more likely to return to school as a single parent and because, in general, they earn less than men. More women apply for financial aid, the sidebar also notes.


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