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The Genderational Gap, Part 2 The confidence crisis in college

Many college women still questioning their ability to succeed

Montclair State University President Susan Cole: “Women are still doubting themselves.”

Susan Cole is a bit surprised by this generation.

Cole, routinely lauded for the work she has done in the past 17 years to build Montclair State University into one of the top institutions in the state, pointed to the most recent annual study of incoming college freshmen conducted by the Cooperative Institution Research Program at the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The lack of self-confidence among incoming females was astonishing, she said.

“Fifty years after the feminist era, women are still doubting themselves,” said Cole, the university’s president.

Which means that in the midst of closing the gender gap, millennial women may have left untouched the most discouraging disparity of all:

The Confidence Gap.

Cole said the study showed young men entering college still rate themselves significantly more highly than do young women when it came to a number of general characteristics, including:

  • General academic ability
  • Mathematical ability
  • Leadership and public speaking ability
  • The ability to discuss and negotiate controversial issues
  • Intellectual and social self-confidence
  • Physical and emotional health
  • An understanding of community, national and global issues
  • Self-understanding

“Significantly more young women than men enter college planning to go on to advanced postgraduate and professional studies … women students graduate with higher grades, faster and at higher rates than men,” Cole said. “And yet, young women enter college with considerably less confidence in their intellectual, social and leadership abilities than do young men.”

As she spoke at the Women Entrepreneurship Conference at Montclair State University last fall, Cole explained how she reasoned with the frustrating data.

“Women remain less likely to raise their hands for tough assignments and promotions or to risk starting businesses, not because they aren’t smart and ready to work hard, but because they are sitting there thinking, ‘I’m not absolutely sure that I have the abilities and the experience and knowledge to do that job perfectly,’” Cole said.

Meg Fry

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