By Sarah Miller – Horizon News & Features Editor
Hesston College released the dean’s list for the fall 2017 semester on Jan. 8, naming 56 students with a GPA between 3.90 and 4.00. The interesting part? Over 71 percent of those students are female. This trend is not new. For at least the past five years, women at Hesston College have dominated the dean’s list.
Turns out, college campuses all over the country are experiencing similar gaps. From elite private schools to huge state universities, women have higher GPAs and complete a disproportionate number of honors degrees.
The looming question: Why?
Kevin Wilder, psychology and sociology professor, says it’s difficult to explain, but not hard to notice.
“No one denies the problem doesn’t exist,” he said.
Wilder’s argument has three possible causes. The first is a developmental difference between men and women. At a certain point, girls jump ahead of boys, he said. If boys see that girls are more academically successful, they won’t want to try to catch up.
So they fall farther and farther behind.
“Success breeds success,” Wilder said repeatedly.
Paying attention to that developmental gap could lead to more success in both genders, he said.
Wilder also believes it’s also a cultural problem.
“When you’re a man growing up in our culture, you’re supposed to be irresponsible,” Wilder said. “You’re the coolest, funnest guy when you’re irresponsible and carefree.”
But suddenly, when you turn 25, people wonder why you’re not responsible. Society doesn’t do a good job of bridging that gap, he said.
The lack of male mentors or models in the lives of young men also adds to the problem.
Wilder can relate.
“I think the Kevin Wilder as a freshman and Kevin Wilder as a senior were two very different people,” he said. “What carried me through in college was other adult males.”
Juli Winter, Dean of Students, agrees that females and males develop at different rates socially, academically, and behaviorally. But she thinks the educational expectations are at fault for that.
“I think there are at times different expectations and supports for girls and boys,” she said. “We have gone through a decade or more where there has been much emphasis placed on girls ‘catching up’ with boys in school.”
Winter wonders if the boys have been left behind during this process.
“I don’t believe just because you catch women up means you leave men behind,” he said. “To say a group is left behind is to say they’re not empowered, and I don’t know if it’s at that level yet.”
Another argument is that boys don’t try as hard in school because they have a safety net in society that allows them to secure a good paying job without the education. Women, on the other hand, know that their opportunities are more limited without higher education, Wilder said.
Winter also believes that this gap could be a result of social class.
“Often in a poverty stricken home, the male child is expected to help with family income,” she said. “This can become a higher priority than school.”
The Washington Post found similar results after recent research from MIT, Northwestern, and University of Florida.
“Girls from disadvantaged backgrounds are much more likely to succeed than boys raised under the same circumstances,” Jeff Guo writes.
With all of these theories spinning around, Wilder sticks with his three arguments, by trying to find something that’s possible to embrace.
“Can we actually embrace maybe seeing that middle school is a time to have an intervention with boys and girls because they’re developing?” he said. “Can we talk about how it’s not cool to be irresponsible? Can we think about what mentors people had in high school and early adulthood?”
Wilder is optimistic.
“I think with good mentoring and good values, a lot of guys catch up.”