University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

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UW-Eau Claire Study Group Focuses on
Increasing Male Student Retention Rates


 MAILED:  Aug. 11, 2004

EAU CLAIRE - An analysis of student data at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire indicates that male students typically do not do as well academically as their female classmates, a pattern that mirrors national and international trends.

But unlike many campuses, UW-Eau Claire is acknowledging the pattern and looking for ways to help its male students succeed in greater numbers, said Art Lyons, a student services coordinator in the Academic Skills Center and chair of the university's Male Student Study Group.

"The data is dramatic," Lyons said. "Male students at UW-Eau Claire are falling behind female students during their freshman year and many of them never catch up. Gender politics makes it difficult to discuss but we must find ways to better support our male students."

The study group found:

Male students come to UW-Eau Claire with strong academic abilities, Lyons said, noting that men make up 38 percent of the university's undergraduate students. On average, incoming male students have slightly higher ACT scores and do better on the math placement tests, while the women typically have higher high school class ranks and do better on the English placement test, he said.

Research indicates that alcohol use, immaturity and an unwillingness to seek help are among the factors that contribute to male students' academic struggles, which often begin in their freshmen year, Lyons said.

"Alcohol is a big problem," Lyons said. "Studies show that drinking is a problem for men and women on campuses across the country. But the studies also show that men tend to get into more trouble when they drink. More men are arrested or cited when they've been drinking because they engage in riskier or more destructive behavior - behavior that gets them noticed and in trouble."

With arrests or citations come additional stressors - fines, court appearances and other disciplinarily issues that distract them from their studies, Lyons said.

But alcohol is just one factor, Lyons said. In general, traditional-age freshmen women are more ready to do what is necessary to succeed in college, Lyons said. "They tend to manage their time better, they make better decisions and are more willing and able to follow directions," he said. "Women at that age tend to be more emotionally developed."

Studies show that men typically are less involved in campus events, activities and programs, which means they have fewer opportunities to connect in educationally significant ways with other students, faculty and staff, Lyons said. Those outside-the-classroom connections can help students feel comfortable in the campus setting, which encourages them to stay in college, he said.

And the data show that about 75 percent of the UW-Eau Claire students using campus support services such as counseling, health services and tutoring are female, Lyons said.

"Men and women tend to react differently to the same set of circumstances," Lyons said. "Men have a harder time asking for help. We need to find ways to work with men to help them develop emotionally and psychologically so they can make healthier choices."

Identifying and discussing issues that effect the rate at which men earn degrees is another way to help the university develop strategies to ensure that all students achieve their potential at UW-Eau Claire, said Kimberly Barrett, associate vice chancellor of student development and diversity.

"I have always understood that gender bias in society has a negative effect on both men and women," Barrett said. "This discussion provides more evidence that women aren't the only ones negatively affected by the biases that remain in our society. When we identify ways to help any group of students succeed, all students benefit."

The study group hosted a series of campus-wide discussion sessions during the spring semester to get the campus community thinking about and talking about male gender issues, Lyons said. This fall the group will complete a report outlining the problems and identifying strategies for addressing them.

The group believes that efforts must come at three levels, Lyons said. "As a campus, we must create an atmosphere that encourages discussions about gender issues, including late adolescent development," he said. "We also need to work with offices, organizations and other campus groups to encourage them to help men develop. And we need to encourage male faculty and staff to mentor male students."

If done well, those efforts will encourage traditional-age male students to become more involved in campus life, be more willing to seek help for academic and personal problems, and make better choices when it comes to alcohol use and other behaviors, said Lyons.

The Male Student Study Group is an ad hoc subcommittee of the Retention/Transitions subcommittee of the Enrollment Planning Advisory Committee.

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JB

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Updated: August 3, 2004