- The Gender Gap in College: Maximizing the Developmental Potential of Women and Men
The gender gap in higher education enrollments and degree completion has garnered considerable attention from educators, governing boards, and the media, particularly now that women’s majority status at both the undergraduate and graduate levels is being viewed as a problematic imbalance. Thus, a comprehensive and systematic analysis of the impact of college on the undergraduate experience that considers the importance of gender in conceptualizing theories of student development constitutes a welcome addition to higher education scholarship.
Linda Sax, who conducted this wide-ranging quantitative study and who describes herself as a “scholar of gender issues,” has utilized two nationwide surveys conducted at UCLA: the Cooperative Institutional Research Program (CIRP) Freshman Survey of entering full-time college students and a longitudinal College Student Survey that followed up on cohorts following four years of the college experience. She provides detailed assessments of three overarching themes: how gender shapes the characteristics of female and male undergraduates when they enter college, how both women and men experience college, and how four years of college influence their development. The American Council on Education’s biennial reports on gender equity and the gender gap attribute this imbalance to increases in college attendance among women from demographic groups that had been historically underrepresented in higher education—African-Americans, Latinas, older students, and those of lower socioeconomic status (King, 2006). However, as Sax also notes, empirical research on college student development barely skims the surface in addressing “potential gender differences.”
The text consists of eight chapters and four appendices, with multiple tables (40) and figures (15) used to illustrate the textual explanations, and helpful summaries clarifying the detailed data analyses. In the first data-driven chapter (chapter 2), Sax and her colleagues focus on the gender gaps in attitudes and outlooks of entering freshmen “as reflected in their values, beliefs, experiences, and aspirations” (p. 48). A cursory literature review of theoretical and empirical research on women’s development with emphasis on the nature of interpersonal and relational experiences, and of the impact of college on students is contained in chapter 3. Sax raises two themes that recur throughout this text: the gendered nature of student and faculty interactions and the conditional effects of demographic [End Page 714] or environmental characteristics in determining the outcomes of four years of college for female and male students.
In giving central importance to gender in measuring the impact of college on students, Sax adapts Alexander Astin’s input-environment-outcome model (IEO) to formulate a modified conceptualization of her own. She juxtaposes the two diagrams on consecutive pages, substituting “pre-college characteristics” for “inputs,” “college environments and experiences” for “environment,” and “college outcomes” for “outcome” (p. 68). Twin sets of arrows indicate that she is measuring college impact differentially for women and men. Sax observes rather optimistically that her modified representation of the Astin model will encourage practitioners to be more perceptive in thinking through a range of outcomes for students, considering these outcomes separately by gender. Given the emphasis on student diversity and student retention in college mission statements, it seems appropriate that the research community consider the utility of her approach in addressing the conditional effects of not only gender but race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status as well as outcomes for a growing number of non-traditional students, those who are older, transfer between institutions, attend part-time, and enroll in two-year public community colleges.
Chapters 5, 6, and 7 are referred to by the author as “the book’s raison d’être” in testing her conditional impact model, examining gender differences for 26 different student outcomes, and proposing implications for practice and an agenda for future research. She groups these outcomes into three categories: personality and identity (chapter 5), political and social values (chapter 6), and academic outcomes (chapter 7). In exploring the interaction between gender and college experiences, Sax identifies 584 different college effects, 53...