Monday, August 5, 2013

Mentoring College Men to Close the Gender Gap: An Interdepartmental Approach for A Small Regional Campus

There is no hiding the fact that college men can be considered a minority. This is not in regard to minorities in the sense of ethnicity, religion, physical disability, sexual preference, or gender identity. Male students, male faculty, male staff, and male administrators are, in terms of higher education, in a woman’s world. 

I work at a unique institution of higher education, WKU-Glasgow.  WKU-Glasgow is a regional campus of Western Kentucky University located in the small town of Glasgow, Kentucky.  Anyone familiar with regional campuses can identify with some of the unique characteristics and parameters of such an institution.  Specifically discussing WKU-Glasgow, the student population is by far the most interesting characteristic.  The total student population of WKU-Glasgow is 2,532.  There are 1,740 female students and 792 male students enrolled at the WKU-Glasgow campus.

This gender difference in enrollment at WKU-Glasgow is nothing new or revolutionary in higher education. According to the United States Census Bureau in 2012, there were 10,032,000 females and 7,456,000 males enrolled in higher education.  While the difference is not vast, I cannot help but wonder why there is such a difference.

However, enrollment discrepancy is not the only issue facing male students in higher education. Males face an array of academic issues within higher education which include overall academic success, academic engagement, completion of degree, higher risk of academic probation, and higher risk of being dismissed from an institution for academic reasons (Kahn, Brett, & Holmes, 2011).   I advise two different student organizations at WKU-Glasgow.  Between the two organizations, there are a total of 11 students.  Not surprisingly, there are eight female students and three males.  Also to no surprise, two of the three male students are currently facing problems academically.  Unfortunately, these are common themes within higher education. 

In comparison to men, women are more likely to experience academic success in higher education. Surprisingly, this is includes most women despite racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic group (Ewert, 2012). This makes me wonder about the importance of masculinity as it relates to male students’ academic success and males’ ability to exist and function in a female-dominated environment.

Clearly, there is a link between masculinity and academic success.  For example, it can be assumed that many males in higher education adhere to hegemonic masculinity, which is “a form of masculinity where dominance is maintained and reinforced through a variety of avenues (e.g. rejecting femininity) (Kahn, Brett, & Holmes, 2011).

Such behavior or ideology as hegemonic masculinity presents a serious dilemma academically. “Reading, writing, analysis, oral discussion and debate, all behaviors that    have engaged humans for thousands of years in cultures all over the world, when constructed as ‘feminine’ run counter to dominant masculinity, which by definition rejects women and femininity” (Kahn, Brett, & Homes, 2011).  The aforementioned behaviors are crucial to academic success. In addition, women typically spend more time outside of the classroom studying, completing coursework, and engaging in academic discussions (Kahn, Brett, & Holmes, 2011).  This alone, unfortunately, has the potential to promote femininity in academics for males.

So, as student affairs professionals and administrators within higher education, how do we encourage males to increase academic success?  What must happen in order to bring the gender gap in higher education closer to equilibrium? These are loaded questions that not one individual or one program will answer since the concept of masculinity takes on a variety of forms through individual perspective.  Regardless, professionals within higher education must be cognizant that men are struggling academically, and more efforts could potentially reverse the less-than-impressive numbers regarding men in higher education.

Fortunately, universities and colleges across the nation have begun combating this dilemma.  St. Norbert’s College maintains a program called “Men’s Initiative.” This initiative is designed to “[provide] resources and educational programming around topics like: dominant ideas about masculinity in the media, healthy relationships and lifestyles, and difficult dialogues about topics like sexual assault” (“Men’s Initiative, n.d.).  Similarly, at the University of Arizona, the Women’s Resource Center opened “The Men’s Project.” which, like “Men’s Initiative,” covers important and relevant issues regarding masculinities and college men. Such initiatives exist within colleges and universities across the nation. 

In light of the programming, awareness, and other efforts to close the gender gap and bring college men out of the mentality that academic success is feminine, college men are still lacking academically; this is evident in Dr. Claudia Buchmann’s The Rise of Women: The Growing Gap in Education and What It Means for American Schools.  

Clearly, within higher education, there are male staff, faculty, and administrators who have encountered the same obstacles that face college men today but have overcome those obstacles.  This realization has increased my appreciation of mentoring programs.  One of the biggest hindrances for males is the mentality that communicating feelings or admitting to struggling will somehow discredit our masculinity. As I have experienced with male students that I advise, many male students will not seek academic help or admit that they are struggling academically.

Of course, there are a variety of mentoring programs that exist within institutions of higher education across the nation. However, mentoring programs that focus specifically on the academic performance of college men seem to be scarce to non-existent. In addition, there do not seem to be any such programs that incorporate an interdepartmental approach in which professional men from academic affairs and student affairs partner to mentor college men. Currently, such a program does not exist at WKU-Glasgow or university-wide at Western Kentucky University. This is a program that I have been thinking about establishing at WKU-Glasgow given the low enrollment of male students, low retention of male students, low academic performance of male students, and low involvement of male students.

Ultimately, I want to contribute to the closing of the gender gap that exists in higher education, especially the gap that exists in academic performance.  For me, an interdepartmental mentoring program would be the ideal method because it creates relationships and accountability as well as a place for college men to break the boundaries that hegemonic masculinity creates.  As Kyle Carpenter’s post “It Takes a Village to Develop Men” (which I encourage everyone to read) suggests, it takes a university or college to close the gender gap at each individual institution.

To conclude, I would like to leave you with several questions to consider in regard to an academic mentor programming for college men:

  • Recruiting college men to participate in this program will be a challenge in and of it self. What methods could be used to attract college men to such a mentoring program? Specifically, what methods would help recruit college men who are enrolled in a small regional campus or community college to participate in such a mentoring program?
  • It would be my hope that this mentoring program would be interdepartmental.  However, time is valuable for higher education professionals. How could higher education professionals be encouraged to participate in this program (i.e., unite this mentoring program to a student worker position within each department)?
  • What would accountability look like for this sort of program? Should there be some sort of formal procedure or policy?
  • Should there be any additional parameters set for such a program to limit or control membership/involvement?
Connect With Me:
John Roberts is the publisher of this post.  You can connect with John on Twitter @JohnRoberts348 or via e-mail at  John works at Western Kentucky University Glasglow as the Coordinator of Communications for Student Recruitment.  John also serves as the Co-Coordinator of Social Media for the ACPA SCMM

Ewert, S. 2012. Fewer diplomas for men: The influence of college experiences on the gender gap in college graduation. The Journal of Higher Education, 83(6), 824-846.

Kahn, J. S., Brett, L. B., & Holmes, J. R. (2011). Concerns with men’s academic motivation in higher education: An exploratory investigation of the role of masculinity. The Journal of Men’s Studies, 19(1), 65-82.

Men’s intiative. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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