UWEP releases vital information

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Young women need “very strong” collegiate influences

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Editor’s note:  The first set of snapshots in this series was published in the February 21, 2011 edition of the paper.

Women in Utah have the lowest college graduation rates in America and research is being done to find out why and how to fix it.

The Utah Women and Education Project, UWEP, has released three more research snapshots, which reveal additional reasons why Utah has low college attendance and graduation rates among females and what can be done to initiate change.

The purpose of the two-year research project is to educate and motivate young women and those influential in their lives about the importance of obtaining post-secondary degrees. The research snapshots are a way of presenting the results to the public in a user-friendly way.

The recently released snapshots point to the importance of beginning the discussion about college with girls as young as elementary age, but especially with those in middle and high school.

“We’re finding the earlier those conversations take place, the better,” said Susan Madsen, director of the Utah Women and Education Project and an associate professor of management in the Business department. “Elementary age is not too young to start talking about college,”

Research Snapshot No. 4 details the influence of school counselors and administrators on a young woman’s college decision. Thirty-two percent of participants in the study who had attended and graduated from college were more likely to have had a high school guidance counselor who was a “strong” or “very strong” influence in their lives.

However, the highest percentage of participants said their high school counselors had “no influence” on them. And participants believed high school administrators were more concerned about rules than student success.

The fifth Research Snapshot explains the important role academic encouragement by middle and high school teachers plays in a young woman’s decisions about college. Researchers from the UWEP found 36 percent of participants who attended and graduated from college had teachers in high school who were a “strong” or “very strong” influence on their college decisions.

Each Snapshot contains ideas for taking an active role in changing the low college attendance and graduation rates among young women in Utah.

“We can’t assume that other people are taking the responsibility to encourage young girls to attend and graduate from college,” Madsen said. “It’s up to all of us. We all have to reach out, even if it’s just for a moment.”

School counselors, administrators and teachers can take a more active role by helping young women understand their strengths rather than weaknesses. They can reach out to students who aren’t proactive in the college process by asking about their collegiate plans, discussing the benefits of a higher education and looking for ways to be a positive influence.

Madsen said even a quick, simple, positive thought will give girls confidence and change their outlook toward college.

“Even if one teacher, counselor or administrator steps in and takes an interest they can make a difference,” Madsen said.

Snapshot No. 6 shows college preparation activities done in high school determine the likelihood of college attendance and graduation for young women. The study discovered eight specific actions linked to college success.

The top three activities were saving money for college, visiting a campus and receiving a scholarship or grant to attend. Other important activities included taking the ACT, requesting information from a college, discussing financial aid and application and acceptance to a college.

The same conclusion can be applied to all the Snapshots; individuals who are influential in a young woman’s life should take a proactive role in outlining a path for her college success.

For more information about the UWEP visit www.uvu.edu/wep.