Carleton University admits more male students than females. But it graduates more female students than males. Why? What, if anything, can and should we do about it? (I don't know.)
The public access data is here. (Datacubes is a lovely tool, but it takes a little time learning how to use it.)
You can see there's a difference from the public access data. I can also get access to Carleton internal data. Except I can't seem to access it from home, so what follows comes from memory:
1. Among the 20 or so Ontario universities, only Carleton, Waterloo, the smaller University of Ontario Institute of Technology, and the tiny Dominican University College, admit more males than females.
2. The exact numbers vary year by year, and across cohorts and faculties, but at Carleton we nearly always see lower continuation and graduation rates for males than females. Cumulative differences of 5 or 10 percentage points are not uncommon a few years after admission. The difference is big enough to matter.
3. The Faculties of Arts and Social Science, and Public Affairs (Law, Criminology, Political Science, Economics, Journalism and Communication, etc.) have a bigger male-female difference in continuation and graduation rates than the Faculties of Science, Engineering and Design, and Business. (FASS and FPA also have more female than male students.)
4. Unsurprisingly, the biggest drop in cohort numbers comes in the students' first year. But surprisingly, the male-female difference only starts to appear after second year. (Perhaps I should double-check those numbers, because they are surprising, and don't match what Ross Finnie and Theresa Qiu found as quoted below.) [Update: I checked, and my memory was correct. But Ross and Theresa say that more female students than males switch universities, so if a lot of females switch after first year, this might reconcile my results with theirs, because my data can't distinguish those who switch universities from those who drop out.]
An econometrician who works at the University tells me that the male-female difference in retention rates disappears once you add the students' grades to the equation. But that seems open to more than one causal interpretation.
Carleton is certainly not alone. Ross Finnie and Theresa Qiu (big pdf) have much better data than me, and have done a much better analysis than I could do, and they find the same pattern in Atlantic Canada:
"Men leave at considerably higher rates than woman at the university level: 17 versus 13.8 percent in the first year for the 17 to 20 group, 14.4 versus 10 in the second year, with a cumulative difference of 28.4 percent versus 21.9 by the end of year 2. “What’s the matter with men?” is thus seen to be a relevant question with respect to persistence rates as well as access rates – i.e., going on as well as getting into PSE.
The implications of these findings are important. Not only do men enter university at substantially lower rates than women (e.g., Finnie, Lascelles, Laporte (2004), Finnie and Mueller (2008), Frenette and Zeman (2007)), they are also considerably less likely to continue on in their studies. Gender differences in final graduation rates – i.e., the numbers actually obtaining degrees – are, therefore, skewed even further than the access rates we have previously been looking to would indicate.
Women’s switching rates are, conversely, a bit higher than men’s. This means that when we put leaving and switching rates together, which (again) is the “quit rate” from the perspective of individual institutions, the true gender differences in persistence in PSE (i.e., after allowing for switchers) are understated. The benefit of being able to include switchers in our analysis, as is possible with the PSIS data, is again clear. The reasons for these different gender patterns represent an interesting topic for further research." (p. 35)
Universities care about retention and graduation rates. They care because they don't get money from students who quit. They care because their government funders tell them they ought to care. And they care because they want their students to do well. Retention has been on the agenda at Carleton for as long as I can remember.
But I can't remember sex differences in retention being on the agenda.
I am pretty sure that if it were the other way around -- if women's retention rates were worse than men's -- we would be hearing a lot about it, and there would be lots of demands that somebody do something.
What explanations would you give, and what policies would you recommend, if it were the other way around?
Maybe it's time for the Goose Sauce Gambit. Let's do the gender switch. Are you saying it's part of boys' essential nature? Are you blaming the victim? Or are universities a hostile environment for boys?
Me, I don't know. It could be lots of things. Some of which aren't a problem, or are problems we can't do anything about. But sometimes I walk around campus, and try to imagine I'm not familiar with what I'm seeing and hearing, and try to see it all through fresh male eyes and ears. Would I feel welcome in that professor's office, given the posters on the door?