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Trends in Educational Equity of Girls and Women: 2004 - Transition to Postsecondary Education

Transition to Postsecondary Education

High school students' plans for further education indicate the importance that young people attach to postsecondary education and their perceptions of their access to it. Aspirations are important, because they are a first step toward attainment. Both aspirations and undergraduate enrollment rates of females have increased, and females have now surpassed males in both areas.

Female high school seniors tend to have higher educational aspirations than their male peers.

In 1990 and 2001, female high school seniors were more likely than their male peers to report that they definitely planned to graduate from a 4-year college (62 percent vs. 51 percent in 2001; indicator 23). By 2001, female high school seniors were also more likely than males to report that they definitely would attend graduate or professional school (25 percent vs. 16 percent). This marked a change from 1980, when a higher percentage of males than females reported that they definitely would attend graduate or professional school.

Females are more likely than males to enroll in college the fall immediately following graduation from high school.

From 1972 to 2001, the proportions of both males and females who enrolled in college immediately after finishing high school increased, but females' enrollment increased at a faster rate. In 1972, male high school graduates were more likely than their female peers to enroll in a 2- or 4-year college in the fall after graduating from high school (53 percent vs. 46 percent) (figure H and indicator 24). However, despite long-term increases in enrollment between 1972 and 2001, the proportions of females who enrolled in college after high school declined 7 percentage points between 1997 and 2001.

A majority of undergraduates are female.

The proportion of the undergraduates who were female increased from the minority to the majority of students between 1970 and 2000; in 1970, 42 percent of all undergraduates were female, while in 2000, 56 percent were female (indicator 25). In part, this reflects an increase in the numbers of young women who enter college immediately after completing high school, but it also reflects a sizable number of older women enrolled in school (Digest of Education Statistics 2002, NCES 2003-060). Since the late 1970s, at least half of all part-time students have been female, and since 1985, a majority of full-time students have been female as well (figure I). In 2000, females accounted for 55 percent of full-time enrollment and 58 percent of part-time enrollment.

Females make up the majority of graduate, but not first-professional, students.

Females have made even larger gains at the graduate level than at the undergraduate level. In 1970, 39 percent of all graduate students were female, a slightly lower proportion than at the undergraduate level, but in 2000, 58 percent of graduate students were female, a slightly higher proportion than at the undergraduate level (figure J). Female graduate students accounted for a greater percentage of part-time enrollment (61 percent) than of full-time enrollment (54 percent) in 2000.

The majority of first-professional students are still men, but women have made dramatic and consistent gains in their representation since 1970 (figure J). While 9 percent of students in first professional degree programs were women in 1970, by 2000, 47 percent of full-time and 44 percent of part-time first-professional students were women.

  Transition to Postsecondary Education
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National Center for Education Statistics -
U.S. Department of Education