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Women surpass men in college enrollment, graduation

Brittany Kobylak decided to attend college because of pressure from her family and her career aspirations.

“It’s pretty much been a standard in my family,” said Kobylak, a freshman interior design major. “You go to school, graduate and get a job.”

Kobylak isn’t the only young woman making the decision to attend college; in fact, college-enrolled women are no longer a minority.

In fall 2012, there were 3,591 individuals enrolled as first time, first year, full time freshmen at the University, according to the University Office of Institutional Research’s website. Of those, about 60 percent were female and roughly 40 percent were male.

More women than men graduated at every degree level for the 2011 to 2012 academic year at the University, according to data from Institutional Research.

Roughly 300 more women than men are graduating each year with a bachelor’s degree at the University, according to the data.

Ellen Broido, associate professor of higher education and student affairs, teaches a graduate-level class on gender in higher education, and she said there are a variety of reasons for this trend.

“The argument people are making is that the K-12 system is set up in ways that appeal more to girls than boys,” Broido said.

Society still has gendered ways of teaching young boys and girls how to behave, said Tabassum Ruby, instructor in the Women’s Studies Program.

“When it comes to boys, it is OK to not follow rules and disrupt because this is how we construct masculinity,” Ruby said. “To be a good girl, you are to perform well; it’s good if you’re doing homework and conforming to instructions. It is a cycle we construct early on.”

This trend can be traced back to elementary school, when girls are rewarded more for doing well in school than boys are, Broido said.

“There are other things boys are rewarded for,” Broido said. “K-12, I think, rewards following the rules and being quiet.”

For Kobylak, the difference in educational attainment and socialization among different genders is illustrated in her home. Kobylak has an older sister and a younger brother, and said she notices differences in how her parents treat them.

“My parents don’t really punish [my younger brother] for having bad grades, whereas me and my sister will get talked to or get something taken away,” Kobylak said.

Gary Oates, associate professor of sociology, attributes this difference in attainment to academic engagement, or demonstrating values and habits that foster good academic performance.

“Females tend to display higher levels of engagement than males,” Oates said.

Academic engagement influences academic performance significantly, Oates said.

This may be where the gender gap in educational attainment begins, but certainly not where it ends, at least according to Broido.

One reason for the gap may be the public perception of women, she said.

This may impact women’s incentive to attend college, Oates said.

“If you know that your gender works against you, you probably do as much as you can to compensate,” Oates said.

Men may be able to get a well-paying job without a college degree more easily than women, Broido said.

“As people think about preparing for a career, there are few good options for women that don’t involve a college degree,” Broido said. “This is generally true for men, but less so.”

In addition to these aspects of education and society, there may be other reasons University students like Kobylak find themselves in classes with more women than men.

“In part we have more women here because of the size and strength of the teacher education program,” Broido said.

This increases the number of women who go to the University because elementary school teaching particularly is valued and promoted as a good career for women, Broido said. Other programs at the University also play a role in gender and enrollment, she said. For instance, the University lacks an engineering program and large undergraduate programs in chemistry and physics, Broido said.

“We have more programs that appeal to women,” Broido said.

Type of programs offered and the national trend both play into why there are more women than men at the University, Broido said.

“That (national) difference is strengthened by the degree program we have here,” she said

Oates’ reasoning differed from Broido’s as far as the reason women outnumber men at the University.

“My guess is that there is nothing unique about BG that sparks this pattern,” Oates said.

No matter the reason, with more women enrolling and graduating from colleges and universities, the implications are two-fold.

“On one hand it reflects progress, and on the other hand it reflects that women need more education to make the same money as men,” Broido said.

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