Teachers Can Take An Active Role to Encourage College Graduation

In 2010, Utah Women and Education Project researchers conducted in-depth research to discover why more young women around the state are not attending and graduating from college. The full set of results was published in a series of 12 research snapshots, which you can find on the Utah Women and Education website. In this blog, we look at the influence teachers have on young women attending college.


Taking an Active Role

  • First, be aware of the powerful influence you can have on the college decisions of young women.
  • Ask young women questions about their college plans.
  • Offer your help in preparing them for college or direct them to someone within the school who can.
  • Discuss the broad benefits of higher education with young women and talk to them about graduating from college.
  • Write letters of recommendation to help young women understand their strengths. Use the letters as an assignment in one of your classes.
  • Become familiar with websites that offer information on applying to colleges and obtaining financial assistance. Share these sites with your students, and encourage them to start exploring educational opportunities.
  • Talk to students outside of the classroom about college choices.
  • Don’t assume that your female students are planning on attending college or that someone else has discussed it with them.
  • It doesn’t take much time to start the conversation about college and set them in the right direction.

Other Highlights

We asked the young women in our study how much time they spent talking with their teachers outside of the classroom. We discovered this activity was significantly correlated with students actively preparing for college. In addition, they were much more likely to be influenced positively by their teachers.

  • Many young women who believed that educators had a positive influence on their lives identified a single teacher as helping them alter their self perceptions or constructively change their school experiences and future educational plans.
  • An influential teacher can be from any discipline, including band and music, or work in an extracurricular role, such as a coach.
  • Letters of recommendation changed some young women’s lives, since they did not realize the strengths they had or the admiration and respect their teachers felt for them

Participant Quotes

“I had one teacher who was really influential about college. She wanted us to go and learn so much. I felt like it was her passion to teach us and let us know what we could have. I loved her because she cared so much for us.”

“The only teacher I ever had who expected me to do more with my life than simply graduate high school was my band director. He always taught us that it was essential to leave the world a better place than you found it.”

“I was a statistician for the wrestling coach who was also my English teacher. He was another great influence on me. During my MATC schooling my senior year we had to prepare a career packet which consisted of a resume and a referral letter from an adult. He was obliged to provide the letter for me and after reading it, I realized how much confidence he had in my abilities to learn, and be a wonderful contributor to society. This one letter provided me with the confidence and self-worth I had been struggling to find for years.”

“The main influence would be my music instructor. She always asked me questions and gave me advice about schools and how to work the system. I still talk with her frequently today (two years later) about questions I have concerning college.


The text of this blog was excerpted from a February 2011 research snapshot authored by Dr. Susan R. Madsen titled, “The Influence of Teachers on a Young Woman’s College Decision.” (Please see the entire brief for more information on research context.)

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