Women and post-secondary education

Utahns fall short of the national average

According to Utah Women and Education Project research, Utah ranks last in the country in the percentage of female students enrolled in postsecondary institutions.

A two-year study conducted by the UWEP, however, reveals how low college attendance and graduation rates can be changed.

The results will be presented to the public in a series of 12 user-friendly snapshots. The first three snapshots have been released and detail the value of higher education for women as well as the individual influence a mother and father have on their daughters’ college decisions.

While 96.3 percent of participants in the study agreed that a college degree would benefit them financially, most failed to recognize any other advantages of obtaining a degree. UWEP’s findings, however, show potential benefits in several areas including social, civic, economic, health, parenting, intellectual and self-development.

Even though  96.3 percent realize the potential financial benefits, many women don’t plan to work outside the home after marriage. As a result, they feel they will never use a college degree.

Only 20 percent of the young women surveyed believed they could use their degree to teach their own children or be positive role models to them, an example of the lack of understanding about the broad value of a college education.

Perceptions such as these prevent young women in Utah from attending college. Those that do attend do not feel as high an expectation to graduate.

Many participants said their mothers wanted them to attend college; however, wanting is not enough. Mothers who were actively engaged in their daughters’ life significantly increased the likelihood of college attendance and graduation.

According to the study, one of the most important ways for mothers to be actively engaged was to be an educational role model by attending themselves, having frequent discussions about college and its value, assisting with college and financial aid applications, helping with homework and encouraging good grades.

A fathers’ influence is just as important. Young women in the study who had graduated from college were significantly more likely to have had fathers who read to them when they were young, helped with homework, attended school and cultural events and created learning experiences for them.

“I do regret not finishing college earlier in life,” said Joan Palmer, a non-traditional student and mother of 5 adult children. “Although my parents are absolutely wonderful, they do not believe in a college education.”

Palmer is among the minority of women who return to college later in life and obtain a degree. She admits it is much better to get an education while one is young and has years to utilize it.

As a result, education is strongly emphasized in her family. All five of Palmer’s children have college degrees, including her two daughters.

The UWEP is currently in the process of informing the public about the research in order to facilitate change.

“I did this research because we need a change in the state,” said Susan Madsen, director of the Utah Women and Education Project and an associate professor of management in the Business department. “When you want to make a change, you need to get a lot of people involved.”

Madsen has been presenting her findings all over the state at conferences, to high school counselors and local and state leaders, including the commissioner of higher education and the governor’s office.

“It’s already making a difference and getting people motivated on different levels,” said Madsen.

The research snapshots will continue to be released over the next few months. Students can follow the project at www.UVU.edu/wep

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