Is A College Education Important for Women?

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 some of the perceptions Utah women hold regarding higher education.

Value of a college education

We discovered that many young women in Utah do not understand the broad value of a college education. Most (96.3%) study participants understood that a college degree can benefit them financially; they knew they could potentially get a “good” or “higher paying job” if they had more education. Slightly over 32% also said additional education would help them have a better life, be successful, or have better future opportunities. Participants with college degrees felt more secure and prepared for the future.

However, for many young women in Utah, the financial value of being educated is the only advantage they see. Therefore, if they do not plan to work outside the home after marriage, many do not perceive a need to be educated. A number of women said they did not get a degree because they did not believe they would ever use it.

This notion is far from reality for many young females; researchers have found that a college degree can positively influence nearly all aspects of a woman’s life. Study participants mentioned other benefits resulting from a higher education, but it was typically those with more education who understood the additional benefits.

  • Slightly more than half (54%) understood that college would help them increase their knowledge, intellect, and lifelong learning skills.
  • Only 41% believed that college could help them develop more self-esteem, self-worth, and self-awareness.
  • Just 26% viewed college as something that could help them improve and develop.
  • Only 20% believed they could use their degrees to teach their children and/or be positive examples to them.
  • Just 15% felt college would help prepare them to “influence society” or “make a difference.”
  • Merely 12% noted the social benefits college could bring (including meeting a potential spouse).
  • Barely 8% noted that college could help them develop competencies like critical thinking, problem solving, decision making skills, and tolerance for the differences of others.
  • Many young women believe they are being encouraged to attend but not necessarily graduate from college.
  • Nearly all young women in the study agreed that a college education is “very important” and “wonderful.” Yet, many do not see the urgency of attending college and completing their degrees.
  • Study participants who had not attended or who had dropped out of college truly believe they will obtain degrees “sometime in the future.” However, statistics show that the majority of these women will never return.
  • There is a much stronger likelihood that a woman will earn a college degree if she attends immediately after high school.

A substantial number of young women do not understand the value of a comprehensive college education. They believe useful college courses should teach them the exact skills they need to use in a job. Some young women also believe that it is a “waste of time and money” to attend any college unless they know “exactly” what they want to do with their degree. Many of the perceptions of Utah young women are inaccurate, and we believe that if more of them understood the broad value of obtaining a college degree they would begin to make higher education a top priority!

The text of this blog was excerpted from a January 2011 research snapshot authored by Dr. Susan R. Madsen titled, “The Benefits of Higher Education for Women in Utah.” (Please see the entire brief for more information on research context.)

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