Utah women’s academic focus off target

Utah women aren’t following the national trend of enrolling and staying in school. The Utah Women and Education Project is trying to explain why. Shane Maryott/UVU Review

The Utah Women and Education Project, a study being conducted by Associate Professor of Management Dr. Susan Madsen, seeks to explain why Utah women have fallen behind the national average in completion of college degrees in the last 10 years.

During a time when a college education is integral to personal economic stability and more widely available through satellite campuses, online classes and local community colleges with open enrollment, women in Utah are neglecting the opportunity to get an education. Especially pertinent at UVU, where only 43 percent of students are women, the study seeks to explain why women in Utah only make up 49 percent of the student population, compared to the nation’s 57 percent.

“Female graduation rates in Utah are below the national average,” said the authors in the research and policy brief for the UWEP, “suggesting that women leave school without earning a diploma during these years.”

Utah used to be a leading state in college completion. The general decline of graduation rates, especially within the female population, is an unfortunate reflection on our state populace.

“An educated citizenry is necessary to remain competitive in today’s state, national and global economies,” UWEP researchers said.

What that means for married Utah women who stay at home is that in a case where they need a job, such as during an economic recession, their lack of education may make it more difficult to be competitive in their application for jobs, especially for jobs with more flexible hours and a decent salary or wage.

In Utah, and particularly at UVU, women are pursuing degrees that are more service-oriented than those which are competitive like business or science.

According to the study, Utah women not only fall below the national average for completion of any degree, they also fall far below the average enrollment in “high-demand fields that customarily pay well,” at 28.8 percent, in contrast to 49.5 percent of women nationally.

“Females who want to maximize their employability, increase their wage earning capabilities and spend minimal time working outside their home need to consider more advanced training in carefully selected disciplines,” researchers said.

Simply stated, women with advanced or ambitious degrees have more options. With so many technological options for communication, the gap between working at home and needing to be in the office can be bridged in many situations.

Whether Utah women not completing their education is based on religious and family values, because they weren’t encouraged or some other determining x-factor, women should be aware that their lives need not go in only one of two directions: education and career or marriage and children. Education and family can coexist; in fact, they may be intrinsic to the success of one another.

“Formal education beyond high school is critical as Utah women continue to seek ways to become more competent and influential contributors within their homes, churches, communities, workplaces and beyond,” researchers said.

As women develop themselves, whether they plan to pursue a career or not, their time won’t be wasted if they choose to obtain a college degree.

Percentage of 18-24-Year-Old Females Enrolled in Postsecondary Institutions by Year. Information courtesy of Utah Women and Education Project

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