Specificities concerning the connection to school in young college students

The experience of college students is marked by a variety of gender stereotypes resulting from gender-based differentiated socialization. In this section, we look at how this socialization influences the students’ connection to school and their learning as well as how the teaching staff contribute to differentiated socialization without realizing it.

School leaving at college: A gendered situation

College drop-out rates are alarming. For technology programs, for instance, the success rate after six years is only 66% (Breton, 2016). There is also still a gender gap in terms of the graduation rate, which reflects a gendered connection to school.

In the Gaspésie–Îles-de-la-Madeleine administrative region, for the student cohort that entered college in 2009, the graduation rate—students who obtained their DCSs two years after the usual duration of the program—was 61.7% for girls and 50.9% for boys, a difference of 10.8% (Cartojeunes, 2019). In Québec, moreover, this rate has fallen “farther for girls (from 70.3% to 67.4% over five years) than for boys (57.3% to 56.1%)” (Dion-Viens, 2017).

The reasons why girls and boys drop out of college are also very different (Roy et al., 2012a):

For boysFor girls
Factors connected to the teaching institution;Personal and family-related reasons and difficulties;
Attraction of the labour market; Academic difficulties; and
Lack of motivation (or interest) and commitment to their studies;Too heavy a workload.
Role exerted by their social network (friends who want to drop out of school); and
Low importance of academic success in terms of their values.

Lack of motivation and commitment to education are two very important factors in determining student retention, which may explain why more boys drop out (Roy, Bouchard and Turcotte, 2012d). In addition, employment opportunities for boys without diplomas are much more interesting than those that exist for girls (Chouinard, Bergeron, Vezeau and Janosz, 2010), traditionally male jobs being better paid than those traditionally reserved for women. However, more girls are able to conciliate work and their studies (Duchaine, 2017), which might explain why when they do drop out they say it’s because their work load is too heavy or they’re having trouble at school.

Finally, it must also be said that sociocultural origin and gender play a role in the number of students enrolled: “upon arrival at college, the disparity between young men and young women is even greater for young people from less advantaged sociocultural communities: 30 men for 70 women, when both parents have at best completed their secondary school studies. In contrast, this imbalance is considerably mitigated when the young people come from advantaged communities (53 women for 46 men)” (Eckert, 2010, p. 158).

Gender stereotypes and the connection to learning

Some behaviours, values and characteristics that vary significantly by sex have been targeted by teams conducting research in the education field (Eckert, 2010; Baudoux and Noircent, 1993; Roy, Bouchard and Turcotte, 2012a, 2012b, 2012c) since they are connected to school perseverance:

Attach more importance to competition;Attach greater importance to the relational sphere (family, loved ones, friends);
Are involved in more physical activities outside college;Attach more importance to respect;
More often deal with their problems alone;Attach more importance to the effort needed to succeed;
Drink more alcohol;Read books more often;
Are involved in more extracurricular activities;More often feel the work load is too heavy;
Are more mobile in class and take over the area around them;Spend more time on their studies;
Comment spontaneously more often;Attach more importance to academic success and obtaining a college diploma;
More often answer questions identified as difficult;Attach more importance to having a united family;
Speak out more often even when they haven’t been asked to do so;Earn better grades;
More often answer questions that have nothing to do with the subject matter;Attach more importance to having a successful relationship with their partner;
Are more unruly and argue more against instructions from teaching staff;Consider their teachers’ levels of knowledge to be higher;
Interrupt speakers more, tease and push others more, particularly girls; andHelp more, congratulate more and disapprove boys less than the opposite;
Consult the teaching staff at the head of the class more often.Receive more hostile comments from boys, are criticised more often, are targeted by sexist comments, are assaulted verbally and physically;
More often answer closed questions put to the group;
Raise their hand more often without obtaining acknowledgement; and
Ask for more explanations at the end of the class.

Noircent and Baudoux (1993, p. 154) also note that “in situations where boys and girls are on the same team, tasks are distributed according to gender stereotypes”. In addition, the authors mention that it is in the natural science groups that girls are most invisible when it comes to speaking and where they are most often interrupted; in contrast, in social science groups and in groups where they are a minority, they behave more actively. Finally, girls would seem to be quieter in technology classes and in classes that are mostly female or that have male-female parity.

These characteristics, observed more frequently in boys and girls, are the outcome of gender-based differentiated socialization built on gender stereotypes. For instance, if boys are expected to be competitive, be more mobile, and occupy more physical and sound space, they will develop by trying to meet these implicit expectations. These stereotypes influence the connection to learning and school differently for boys and girls.

As Baudoux and Noircent (1993, p. 150) point out, “the teaching staff, who are very sensitive to issues of equity in education, do not suspect they treat students differently”. And yet, this is the case: teachers unconsciously reproduce gender stereotypes through their own interactions with students and because of what they expect of their students. Consequently, not only do they evaluate behaviour differently by gender, they also tend to spot behaviours that are consistent with male or female gender (Baudoux and Noircent, 1993). Here are a few examples.

General observations
  1. Teachers often ask boys open questions while girls are asked to answer closed or multiple-choice questions.
  2. In cases where boys and girls get the same poor grades, girls are twice less likely than boys to be considered of concern by their teachers.
  3. When teachers believe that the assignments they are correcting were submitted by boys, they give higher grades.
  4. A very well-presented assignment is devalued if the teacher supposes it was produced by a girl and complimented if the teacher thinks it was done by a boy.
  5. Teachers tend to attribute poor results by boys to a lack of effort; in contrast, when girls do poorly they tend to attribute it to a lack of intellectual skills.
  6. Boys are more often punished or reprimanded publicly while girls are spoken to briefly, quietly, often unbeknownst to the rest of the class.
  7. Interactions between teachers and students are stereotyped; domination and separation are used with boys (teachers use the imperative) while girls are spoken to softly and are encouraged to be complicit with their teachers.
  8. The use of the masculine as the generic pronoun not only discriminates against girls but also renders women and their accomplishments invisible, and causes female students to tend to stay on the sidelines.
  9. Many stereotypes continue to be depicted in the books and texts used in class; this in itself excludes women from the narrative content.
  10. Teachers don’t get as close physically to girls as they do to boys when their students ask them questions unless the class is mostly female.
  1. Receive more attention from teachers in terms of approval (congratulations), disapproval, comments or listening than girls;
  2. Are asked more direct, semi-open, complex or abstract questions;
  3. Receive more instructions from their teacher prior to beginning an assignment and more encouragement later;
  4. Are more active and have more educational interactions with their teachers;
  5. Occupy a greater space in discussions centred on the topic, initiate such discussions, answer questions, comment spontaneously and direct lesson content;
  6. Receive more individual help from teachers, who scrutinize their responses more closely for potential learning difficulties;
  7. Are better known to their teachers, who remember their first names more quickly, are more concerned with their success and see them more quickly as individuals;
  8. Are criticized more often for incorrect answers or even for not answering; and
  9. Even when boys and girls exhibit the same reprehensible behaviours, boys are reprimanded more often.
  1. Participate less in class discussions and are more likely to be invisible;
  2. Not only receive fewer instructions, but teachers take the initiative to complete tasks the girls should have performed; their independence is not encouraged as much;
  3. Are part of an undifferentiated group for a long time; questions tend to be put to the group and not to individual girls;
  4. Do not object to doing boring jobs; and
  5. Fail to obtain answers to their questions more often than boys.

These differentiated attitudes on the part of students and staff towards male and female students are unconscious, but nevertheless very much present. They are shaped by differentiated socialization, anchored in the gender stereotypes experienced by both teachers and students throughout their lives. We must first become aware of these stereotypes and then work to deconstruct them, through self-reflection and by working to this end with students.

Drop out-related factors: Anchored in stereotypes?

While strong adherence to gender stereotypes is associated with higher dropout rates, some other school dropout factors are gender-specific and require appropriate actions.

The transition from secondary school to college: Gendered trajectories

Girls are more sensitive to transitions such as the transition from primary school to secondary school; a difficult transition can lead to academic difficulties, dwindling interest in school and, ultimately, dropping out of school. As for the transition from secondary school to college, studies have shown that the difficulties associated with this transition would seem to be apparent in boys (Rivière et al., 1997; Tremblay et al., 2006, cited in Roy et al., 2012b). Indeed, their first college term may be a moment of vulnerability for some boys, both academically and personally. The boys most at risk at college apparently feel more out of it and find it more difficult to organize themselves, be independent and manage their schedules. Consequences: it would seem they more easily fall behind and repeatedly fail (Roy, Bouchard and Turcotte, 2012c, p. 9). This being said, since the degree to which students adapt to college life is a key element in the pursuit of their studies, those having more difficulty dealing with the stress of this transition are more likely to drop out later (Meunier-Dubé and Marcotte, 2016). Anxiety and school-related stress are much more prevalent in girls than in boys (Dion-Viens, 2017; Roy et al., 2012).

Mental health

A number of mental health-related psychological factors, including depression and anxiety, affect school perseverance in young people differently depending on their gender.

Researchers have observed that young people between the ages of 15 and 18, that is, at ages just before or concordant with entry into college, “depression rates increase significantly for both genders and rates of depression amongst girls are up to twice as high as those observed amongst boys” (Meunier-Dubé et Marcotte, 2016). In Gaspésie–Îles-de-la-Madeleine, anxiety and depression are the most common mental health disorders and are more prevalent in women. They are significantly more likely than men (30% versus 19%) to experience a high level of psychological distress. And it is amongst young people between the ages of 15 and 24 that this proportion is highest, at 42% (DSP-GÎM, 2017).

This being said, the presence of depressive symptoms, including psychological distress, would seem to be a major factor for predicting the risk of dropping out, and play a role in the difficulties young people may have in adapting to college. Other symptoms of depression include difficulty concentrating, which could adversely affect to a considerable degree the ability to function of students and their academic performance. In students experiencing depression, “it would appear that there is an alteration in some of their cognitive functions, such as those involved in memory and attention. These aspects highlight the difficulties depressed students may encounter when faced with the new academic requirements of the college environment. In addition, many depressed students feel they have a future in which they will not be able to do the job they want. Loss of interest in their usual activities is another sign of depression; a number of depressed students experience a loss of interest for fields of study or for activities they previously enjoyed, which can adversely affect the development of their identity and keep them from choosing a career, with the attendant serious consequences in terms of staying at school” (Meunier-Dubé and Marcotte, 2016).

Coupled with the increasing depression rates in young people, more than a third of college students in Québec, particularly girls, must deal with anxiety (Dion-Viens, 2017). This anxiety is not unrelated to the stress resulting from academic pressure, which is “two to three times more prevalent in girls” (Roy, Bouchard and Turcotte, 2012d, p. 151). In Gaspésie–Îles-de-la-Madeleine, about 11% of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 estimate that most of their days are fairly stressful, even extremely stressful, with women tending to be more stressed (DSP-GÎM, 2017).

Thus, to encourage girls to stay at school, it is critical to take into consideration the fact that they face a higher risk in terms of mental health (school-related stress, anxiety and depression), pay particular attention to the related signs in girls and adjust our actions accordingly since they are more likely to experience their connection to school with a degree of stress and anxiety (Doray, Langlois, Robitaille, Chenard and Aboumrad, 2009).


Some college students, whether returning to college or arriving there from secondary school, must conciliate their role as parents with their studies and sometimes even with a job. Since women are still, even today, responsible for most of the work associated with household tasks and child rearing (Couturier and Posca, 2014), this conciliation can be more difficult for female students and can affect their school perseverance, particularly in the case of single-parent families (in GÎM, 74.3% are women (Statistics Canada, 2016)).

Academic and occupational guidance

The occupational segregation between men and women observed in Gaspésie-Îles-de-la-Madeleine is strongly influenced by gender stereotypes. This segregation also exists in the occupational choices made by students in the region, particularly with regard to secondary school vocational programs and college technology programs. Data for technology programs at the Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles-de-la-Madeleine (CGÎM) show female enrolment consistent with each sector’s traditional nature, either predominantly male or predominantly female (CGÎM, 2018). Gender stereotypes would also seem to influence the students’ career choices.

Generally, this situation is also observed in pre-university programs with particular profiles. According to a study conducted at the Cégep de Sainte-Foy, girls are proportionally more numerous in programs such as medical technology and nursing, social science-related technology (social work, special education, early childhood education), the arts and literature program and social science—helping relationships and social action profile. As for boys, they tend to enroll more often, proportionally speaking, in natural science, in computer technology and in social science—organization and management profile (Roy, Bouchard and Turcotte, 2012b, p. 41).

Students arriving at college have not necessarily made firm career choices yet and this is more often the case for boys. So it would be appropriate to accompany them from the time they arrive to help them consider all kinds of occupations, regardless of gender stereotypes.




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