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Trends in Educational Equity of Girls and Women: 2004 - Persistence and Attainment

Persistence and Attainment

Enrollment in postsecondary education is one indicator of access. However, completion of postsecondary programs is an even more important indicator of personal success and of an education climate that fosters parity in opportunity.

Females are more likely than males to persist and attain degrees.

Among freshmen who enrolled in a college or university for the first time in 1995-96 seeking a bachelor's degree, a greater percentage of females (66 percent) than males (59 percent) had earned a bachelor's degree by the spring of 2001 (indicator 28). A greater percentage of males than females were still enrolled (16 percent vs. 13 percent), indicating that some of the difference in attainment rates might eventually be reduced. A higher percentage of males (21 percent) than females (16 percent) had not obtained a bachelor's degree and were no longer enrolled for a bachelor's degree.

Considering degree attainment more generally (not just those who started in 1995-96), females earned more than half of all bachelor's degrees in 2001 (57 percent; indicator 29). This statistic reflects the increasing proportions of female students in postsecondary education, as previously noted. The proportions of Black and Hispanic bachelor's degree recipients who were female in 2000-01 (66 and 60 percent, respectively) were higher than the proportion of White degree recipients who were female (57 percent; indicator 30).

The increase in participation by females in postsecondary education over the past 30 years has meant that, among the general population ages 25-29 in 2002, a slightly higher percentage of females than males had attained a bachelor's degree or higher (32 percent vs. 27 percent; indicator 33).

Degrees in certain fields of study continued to be disproportionately awarded to males or to females, although changes have occurred in recent years.

Historically, females have tended to account for the majority of bachelor's degrees in fields that often lead to lower paying occupations, such as education and health professions, while males have typically predominated in higher paying fields, such as computer science and engineering. While some of these disparities persist, many changes have occurred since 1970. Certain fields in which men received the majority of degrees in 1970, such as social sciences and history, psychology, biological sciences/life sciences, and business management and administrative services, attained relative gender parity or were disproportionately female by 2001 (figure K and indicator 29). And while other fields, such as computer and information sciences, physical sciences and science technologies, and engineering, continue to have a larger proportion of males, the percentages of females majoring in these areas have risen since 1970.

Females have made substantial progress at the graduate level overall, but still earn fewer than half of the degrees in many fields.

Between 1970 and 2001, the percentages of master's, doctor's, and first-professional degrees earned by females increased substantially in many fields (indicator 31). However, advanced degrees conferred still tend to follow traditional patterns, with women accounting for the majority of master's and doctor's degree recipients in education and health, and men accounting for the majority of recipients in computer and information sciences and engineering.

Women's progress toward earning an equal share of first-professional degrees has been notable. In 1970, 5 percent of law degrees, 8 percent of medical degrees, and 1 percent of dentistry degrees were awarded to females; in 2001, the corresponding percentages were 47 percent, 43 percent, and 39 percent.

Gender differences in participation rates in collegiate sports have narrowed.

One final measure of gender equity at the college level is participation in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)-sponsored sports. Males still outnumber females in collegiate sports participation, but the gap has narrowed. Between 1981-82 (when detailed statistics on females' sports first became available) and 2001-02, the number of females participating in Division I sports increased 150 percent, compared with 15 percent for males (indicator 26).

Female athletes are more likely than male athletes to graduate in a timely fashion. Among female athletes who entered college in 1995, 69 percent graduated by 2001, compared with 54 percent of men.

  Persistence and Attainment