• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Casting Against Type

Women in automotive, or men in nursing.

April 14, 2021

Has anyone out there seen an automotive tech program with a close-to-even gender split among students?

Admittedly, automotive programs aren’t as common as one might expect. In my own state, only a minority of community colleges have one, and the number is dropping. But the profile of the student has remained constant: to be blunt, it’s young men.

I’m glad that young men are in the program. Our overall student mix skews female, which is true of community colleges nationally. There’s certainly no shortage of men who need good jobs, and we have a terrific record of placing our auto tech students in jobs. But the gender divide there is even stronger and more persistent than the (reversed) gender divide in nursing. We have unfilled seats in the automotive program, ready for women to take them. I would like to see that happen. But with a few exceptions, it doesn’t.

For a whole host of reasons, I’d like to see us start to cast against type more frequently. Too much sameness in an occupation can lead to a certain insularity and can encourage bad habits. Stories of women being treated badly at car repair shops are legion; I would think that more women working in the shops would discourage that. Similarly, I’m always glad to see some men in the allied health programs. They provide a different perspective, and their presence brings a more complete set of experiences to the group. That can only help.

When we talk about diversity in colleges, we frequently talk about the mix of employees, or the overall demographics of the student body. But those large numbers can hide some pretty severe clustering. Particularly in vocational programs, gender stereotypes are still visibly powerful. They’re strangely sticky.

Hence, my question. Has anyone seen an auto tech (or welding, or something similar) program that has consistently done a good job of maintaining a balanced gender mix? If so, how did they do it?

As always, I can be reached at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com, or on Twitter @deandad.


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