More Women in College Now than Ever Before

It’s amazing to see how far women have come in the pursuit of higher education. We can think back to the 1950s, where women were discouraged by their families and society as a whole to pursue a college degree or get a job. In fact, a smaller percentage of women attended college in the 1950s than in the 1920s. Even when women attended and graduated from college, there was the expectation those college graduates would soon get married and start a family. A high school diploma was considered enough education for a female.

But the times change and the stats prove it. Today the number of women in college exceeds the number of males in the US. And the numbers keep rising. Between 1990 and 2000, enrollment in higher education institutions increased by 11%, while from 2000 to 2010, that number increased 37%. The number of females enrolling in degree-granting programs rose 39 percent in that time period.  At public institutions, about 58 percent of females seeking a bachelor’s degree graduated within 6 years, compared with 53 percent of males; at private nonprofit institutions, 67 percent of females graduated within 6 years, compared with 63 percent of males.

Graduation rates for females have also been consistently increasing for female students and have been higher than male students. The Institute for Education Sciences found that from 1999–2000, 60% of all associate degrees and 57% of bachelor’s degrees were awarded to females.  This number increased slightly from 2009–2010, where 62% of all associate degrees and 58% of all bachelor’s degrees were awarded to females. In addition, the amount of master’s degrees earned by females increased from 58% in 1999-2000 to 60% in 2009-2010. Doctor’s degrees saw the highest jump in the amount of degrees earned by females, with a 7% increase in degrees awarded from 1999-2000 to 2009-2010.

Minority females are also increasing their graduation rates and surpassing their male counterparts in the amount of degrees earned.  In the US, Black females earned 68% of associate’s degrees, 66 % of bachelor’s degrees, 71% of master’s degrees, and 65% of all doctor’s degrees awarded to all Black students. The same occurred with Hispanic females, who were awarded 62% of associate’s degrees, 61% of bachelor’s degrees, 64%  of master’s degrees, and 55% of all doctor’s degrees awarded to Hispanic students. Women of all races are enrolling and graduating at a faster pace than ever before.

However, there is still much more that can be done by women, especially in the field of science and technology. The American Association of University Women (AAUW) published a report entitled “Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics” in order to address why women in STEM program don’t often complete them. Less than 25 percent of STEM jobs are held by women, and in college programs, the amount of females in STEM fields is extremely small, especially in the engineering field.  Research points to a lack of female role models, gender stereotyping, and less family-friendly flexibility in the STEM fields as potential factors.

Overall, women of all races have made great strides in achieving their college education and in surpassing males in the number of degrees achieved in certain areas. The new challenge comes in continuing to increase those numbers and in spreading female enrollment to areas that are traditionally male-dominated.