Concerns with Men's Academic Motivation in Higher Education: An Exploratory Investigation of the Role of Masculinity

Article excerpt

The gender gap in higher education is not a new phenomenon. Since the 1970s, researchers have been exploring the subtle and not so subtle ways in which sex and gender play a role in multiple aspects of higher education, including students' (a) completed applications, (b) actual enrollment, (c) overall success and (d) completion of a college degree (Adebayo, 2008; Duffy & Sedlacek, 2007; Ehrmann, & Massey, 2007; Harris

III & Harper, 2008; Hughes, Karp, Fermin, & Bailey, 2005; Sax, 2008). What has changed is the focus of that gap. In the past, researchers primarily focused on the ways in which women were not achieving equal access to higher education. A recent focus in the last twenty years has been on understanding the disproportionately lower representation and motivation of men. Typically, this research has examined this issue by dividing sex into two binary categories (men and women) although research is beginning to examine how gender constructs can play a role regardless of one's socially ascribed sex (Smiler, 2006).

Men appear to be struggling with various difficulties in higher education. These difficulties include: eligible men applying disproportionately less often (Baum & Goldstein, 2005; Harris III & Harper, 2008; Pollack, 1998), enrolling disproportionately less (Adebayo, 2008; Baum & Goldstein, 2005; Chronicle of Higher Education, 1995; Harris III & Harper; Marcus, 2000), underperforming in many academic areas (Dayioglu &Turut-Asik, 2007; Ehrmann, & Massey, 2007; Evelyn, 2002; Harris III & Harper; Manzo, 2004; McNabb, Pal, & Sloane, 2002; Sheard, 2009; Wei-Cheng & Lynn, 2001; West, 1999), significantly higher risk to be on academic probation (Evelyn; Tyre, Murr, Juarez, Underwood, & Wingert, 2006), higher probability to be dismissed from college for academic reasons (Evelyn, 2002; Tyre et al., 2006), and a significantly lower lack of persistence to graduation (Adebayo, 2008; Arenson, 2004; Davis, 2007; Harris III & Harper; Leppel, 2002). Several of these issues are more problematic for students of color who are even more underrepresented in access to education and overrepresented in problem areas (Ehrmann, & Massey; Harris III & Harper; Sibulin & Butler, 2005; Smyth & Mcardle, 2004).

As researchers have accumulated data on these issues, it has become difficult to ignore concerns men are struggling with throughout higher education. A fundamental factor cited in the research is the motivation of the student (Cokley, Bernard, Cunningham, & Motoike, 2001; Ehrmann, & Massey, 2007; Locker, 2002; Murtonen, Olkinuora, & Tynjala, 2008; Sheard, 2009). Recent research on motivation reveals women who enter college are found to often have elevated levels of motivation in terms of academic achievement in comparison to their male counterparts (Clifton, Perry, Roberts, & Peter, 2008; Duffy & Sedlacek, 2007; Harris III & Harper, 2008; Sax, 2008; Sheard, 2009). Women students spend significantly more time studying, completing work, discussing academics outside of the classroom, attending class, and engaging in extracurricular activities (Dayioglu &Turut-Asik, 2007; Harris III & Harper; Jenkins, 2009; Mau & Lynn, 2001; Sax). This "less academically engaged behavior" by men may contribute to their less competitive GPA, and greater challenges with reading, formal writing, and communication skills throughout their education (Garden, 2006; Harris III & Harper; Pollack, 1998; Sax; Whitt, Pascarella, Elkins Nesheim, Marth, & Pierson, 2003).

These findings have led some researchers to assume that men have shared and specific needs based on "being men" that perhaps are not met in college classrooms. These needs reflect stereotypic assumptions about men's nature such as the need for movement, activity, and competitiveness.

Pre-college programs have been created to address this concern. …