When it comes to graduation rates, men are the problem

Patrick St. Pierre

Unless you’ve been living under a rock far, far away from campus, you’re aware that the University of Texas favors four-year graduation rates. President William Powers, Jr. mentions the subject in many of his public addresses, and UT administrators collectively chime in to echo the sentiment at any given opportunity.

A common rationale in support of increasing four-year graduation rates is that the University has enrollment limits it cannot exceed. So, theoretically, for every two UT students who take six years to graduate, a total of four years of education gets wasted. In other words, the University must turn away one applicant to make up for these two students’ delays. Examples like these make me, an elective 5-year student, feel quite criminal.

The University’s primary objective is to raise the current four-year graduation rate of just over 50 percent. Last year, the University established the Task Force on Undergraduate Graduation Rates to develop strategies for achieving a new goal of a 70 percent four-year graduation rate by 2016. The University appointed Randy Diehl, dean of the College of Liberal Arts as task force chair, and in February, the task force published its findings.

The more than 100-page report hasn’t garnered much student attention, but the task force also released a more readable, two-page overview. It includes seven concrete recommendations to provide incentive for students to graduate in four years. Still, many of the full report’s findings failed to make it into the brief overview. One finding in particular stands out: men are the problem.

Female students at UT have a four-year graduation rate of 57.2 percent, while male students lag at 46.7 percent. That hefty gap is difficult to explain. Equally tough to interpret is the fact that male students have both a higher attrition rate and significantly higher rate of five-and six-year graduations than girls do. Have the University’s female students enjoyed more advantageous upbringings than their male counterparts? Or, more believably, do men enter college with a lower degree of maturity and a less effective and pragmatic attitude toward academics?

David Brooks of the New York Times embraces this explanation. He cites woeful male employment trends across America, and, puncturing men’s egos further, lists the professional fields in which men fall behind women. That list, as it turns out, is quite long. Although men maintain better representation at the very top of corporate ladders, women dominate nearly every other encouraging employment trend. This achievement gap may be the first of its kind, in that the men, the underachieving group, enjoy just as many societal advantages as the achievers. The crux of the issue, according to Brooks, lies in an antiquated male attitude toward personal success that renders us out-matched in the ever-evolving 21st-century job market. It is women’s natural adaptability that gives them the edge.

Still, an inequitable degree-earning system exists. And with men earning only 40 percent of the undergraduate degrees in America, UT actually has greater gender equality than the national average. So what should be done?

The short answer: nothing.

Nothing should be done to attempt to teach male students adaptability. No public effort to retool women made them superior adapters. Instead, women learned flexibility as a means of coping with the environment. The historically unfair social climate that imposed certain roles for  women rewarded achievement by adaptation. Today those skill sets allow women to outpace men in earning undergraduate and graduate degrees.

The achievement gap at UT fits as part of an emerging trend in the working world and the classroom. If men wish to close the degree-earning gap, they may just have to better adapt to college life.

St. Pierre is an English and philosophy junior from Austin.