Half Empty or Half Full

New report attempts to gather key data on women in higher education -- students, faculty, administrators -- and to analyze key issues. In just about every category, study finds progress and disappointments.
January 22, 2009

With many colleges seeing their undergraduate enrollments becoming overwhelmingly female, and women leading half of the Ivy League universities, it would be easy to make a case that women are in a good position compared to men in higher education, having persisted despite many generations of discrimination.

In an effort to both document such successes and also to note many lingering issues, the Association of American Colleges and Universities is today releasing a new study, "A Measure of Equity: Women's Progress in Higher Education," (which can be purchased online) that brings together both the latest data on the status of women in various parts of higher education and short essays pointing to key issues.

The report notes areas where women are succeeding in large numbers and areas where they are not, and also notes many areas in which some subsets of women are succeeding and others are not. The report notes that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars gender discrimination in education programs receiving federal aid, is hardly new any more. But the last decade has seen "a persistent, organized effort to undermine equity progress on many fronts in the courts, legislatures, state referendums, and on college campuses themselves."

Here are highlights of the findings, by steps in the educational pipeline:

  • High school to college transition. While roughly equal percentages of male and female high school graduates are entering college, the proportion of women who graduate from high school is larger than that of men, and is growing. With regard to reports of a crisis in lost male enrollments, the report cites data suggesting that much of the problem relates to certain groups of male students, not all males.
  • Undergraduate enrollments. Women continue to make up a larger share of the student body, most recently 57 percent. But the report notes that women from low-income families aren't necessarily enjoying the same college-going rates as their wealthier counterparts.
  • Doctoral education. While men still earn more doctorates than women, the gap is narrowing. Women earned 45 percent of doctorates in 2006, up from 23 percent in 1976. At the same time, the report cites numerous studies showing that many women find it difficulty to navigate academic careers and family responsibilities.
  • Faculty jobs. The percentage of positions held by women continues to increase, but not at an equal rate by sector. Women make up a majority of lecturers and instructors, but only 25 percent of full professors. Women also make up a majority of community college faculty members, but are a minority in other sectors. They hold only 34 percent of the faculty positions at research universities. The report urges more of a focus not just on whether women are employed as faculty members, but on whether they are employed on the tenure track and at the institutions that pay the most and tend to offer the most prestige.
  • Senior administrative positions. Here too, women are making up increasing proportions of the population, but only at community colleges do they constitute a majority.

The lead author of the report is Judy Touchton, a consultant and executive coach to academic women and the founder of WomenLeadersMove.com


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