Kent State gender gap reflects national trend

Steve Bushong

Female students like reading more than males, study says

Professor Susan Sainato’s class, Great Books I, came to and end, and 29 students left the room. Of those exiting the Satterfield Hall classroom yesterday, 25 were women.

The gender gap at Kent State is 10,769 women to 7,367 men, a well-known 60- to 40-percent ratio.

The composition of students in Sainato’s class not only reflects Kent State and the national reality of a gender gap, but demonstrates the results of a new study conducted by Noel-Levits.

The study of 100,000 freshmen at 292 colleges and universities reported that female students enjoy reading more than males, which could help explain the gap in Sainato’s class.

The study also reported that females study with a greater intensity and are more self-disciplined than their male counterparts.

Inside Higher Ed reported that these feminine characteristics may contribute to the widening of the gap at colleges and universities.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 57 percent of undergraduates in the U.S. are female.

Professor Kathe Davis, director of the women’s studies program, who also researches masculinity, said it’s still unknown why the gap exists.

“For whatever reasons — a huge, complex set of reasons — maybe young men are having a harder time growing up (than women are),” she said.

But the study wasn’t an anthology of bad news for men.

Noel-Levitz found that women perceive themselves as having a weaker grasp on science and math than men, and men feel more confident than women in their academic abilities.

That may be the reason that of the 331 students enrolled in the computer science major, 92 percent are male.

For a statistical inversion, the School of Fashion has 1,025 females and 51 males.

Sam Fosnaught, freshman exploratory major, has thought about pursuing fashion. He said he is the only man in his current fashion class.

“Guys are like, ‘Oh, fashion, it’s girlie,'” Fosnaught said, trying to explain the lack of males in his class.

Fosnaught may not be far off in his explanation.

Professor Elizabeth Rhodes, director of the School of Fashion, recognized that the school has a formidable gender gap and attributes it to attitudes about the fashion industry among young men.

“I don’t think the typical 18-year-old male associates with a female-dominated field,” she said.

But Rhodes said many of the best-known designers and merchandisers in fashion are male — including Oscar de la Renta, who will make an appearance at Kent State this semester.

The difference between males and females in the Honors College is 693 women to 285 men, or 42 percent, further support of the Noel-Levitz finding that females study more determinedly.

Honors coordinator Carolyn Sampson attributed the gap to the university’s programs and said the Honors College is “close to reflecting the university as a whole.”

Sampson said there are fewer male honor students because Kent State lacks an engineering school and has “traditionally female” programs, such as nursing and fashion.

Nursing has 1,236 students and about 86 percent are female.

If both fashion and nursing were eliminated from Kent State, and both school’s students ceased to attend the university, females would continue to out number males by more than 1,500.

Sociology professor Elaine Hall said pinning the cause of the gender gap on any one cause — such as the male predisposition to be better or worse in some subject areas than females — would be in ignorance of many other factors.

“That’s a small part of it,” Hall said, referring to cognitive factors such as those detailed in the Noel-Levitz survey.

She said sociologists, when investigating issues like the gender gap, place the issue in a large context. They compare the gender gap to those at other schools of similar size and stature.

Sociologists also investigate students’ economic situations, previous educational experiences and the advising they received, she said.

Pete Goldsmith, vice president for enrollment management and student affairs, provided a historical background of the gender gap at Kent State.

Kent State began in 1910 as a “normal school,” or a two-year training school for elementary teaching, which was an occupation dominated by females.

Contact minority affairs reporter Steve Bushong at [email protected].