The College Attendance Decisions of Young Women in Utah

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 Leadership website. In this blog, we look at the influence fathers have on young women attending college.


Making Attendance Decisions

Young women in Utah make one of the following four decisions about college attendance:

  1. not to attend
  2. to attend but then drop out
  3. to drop out and return, or
  4. to graduate with a postsecondary degree (e.g., certificate, associate, or bachelor).

We found that there were a variety of reasons why our participants made the college attendance decisions they did.

A majority of the participants who had never attended college had once aspired to go. Some still see it as part of their future although existing data show that only a small percentage will actually follow through later in life. Participants who never aspired to get a college degree were a minority in this population. The primary challenge for educators and parents, therefore, is to help young women who want to go to college obtain the tools they need to be successful.

Deciding Not To Go

What kept so many of these young women from following their dreams?

  • Economic Reasons 53.7%
  • Family Issues* 40.9%
  • Lack of Direction or Goals 26.8%
  • Negative School/College Experiences 21.5%
  • Health Issues 16.1%
  • Time/Balance 11.4%

*Participants who said they could not attend college due to family issues were significantly more likely to not attend or graduate from college.

Reasons to Attend College

The reasons young women decided to attend college were separated into five categories. Categories two and three were statistically linked to graduating.*

  1. To be educated (46%): Respondents described having clear goals for their education and the reasons why it was important. They also loved learning.
  2. Due to influence from family and friends* (45.5%): These women identified family and friends as influencing their decision to pursue education.
  3. To create a new future* (31.3%): These college students wanted to make a better life for themselves and their families.
  4. For better money and job (29%): These individuals were motivated to attend college to earn more money and/or obtain advancement in their careers.
  5. Due to past schooling experiences (10.8%): This group identified positive experiences in the K-12 public school system as being one important reason they decided to attend college.

Sample Participant Quotes

“When I began seriously dating a really special guy (he was ‘the one’) during a spring semester, he and I decided that it would be nice if I had more time to spend with him. So, I dropped almost half of my full-time credits to have more time to date. After that we were so busy working full-time and part-time jobs to save up for marriage, an apartment, a car, etc., that I never went back.”

“I attended college for about two weeks but was no longer able to go because my dad never filed his taxes, and I could not apply for financial aid on my own because I was too young nor could I afford it.”

“I got pregnant and had a baby right away. Then we decided our baby needed a sibling a year later, and I’ve just been up to my eyeballs in housework ever since.”

“My changing work schedule made it difficult to attend classes, because my employers would move my shift, and I would drop classes and not be able to register for more.


The text of this blog was excerpted from an April 2011 research snapshot authored by Dr. Susan R. Madsen titled, “The College Attendance Decisions of Young Women in Utah.” (Please see the entire brief for more information on research context.)

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