Expert Commentary

Women see value and benefits of college, while men lag on both fronts

2011 report by the Pew Research Center on attitudes behind the gender gap in undergraduate enrollment and degree attainment.

Higher education in the United States was once an essentially male domain, but by the 1970s the vast majority of colleges and universities were co-educational. Women’s educational levels lagged behind men’s for some time, but according to a 2011 report by the Pew Research Center, that changed around 1990: That year, women surpassed men’s attainment levels, and since then the gender gap has continued to grow.

The report, “Women See Value and Benefits of College; Men Lag on Both Fronts,” was based on a survey of 2,142 adults 18 and older living in the continental United States. The questions focused on the perceived affordability and value of college as well as the importance of degree attainment. A survey for an earlier Pew report, “Is College Worth It?” provided additional data.

The survey’s findings include:

  • In 2010, 36% of women ages 25 to 29 had attained at least a bachelor’s degree compared to just 28% of their male peers.
  • For young adults age 25 to 29, Asian-Americans have the highest rate of advanced education: 53% had at least a bachelor’s degree in 2010. This compares to 39% of whites, 19% of blacks and 13% of Hispanics.
  • For all racial and ethnic groups, women are more likely than men to graduate from college. “Among all college graduates ages 25 to 29 in 2010, 55% were women and 45% were men. The gap was largest within the black community, where 63% of college-educated young adults were women and only 37% were men.”
  • More women see college as being advantageous than men. “College-educated women are more likely than their male counterparts to say college was ‘very useful’ in increasing their knowledge and helping them grow intellectually (81% vs. 67%), as well as helping them grow and mature as a person (73% vs. 64%).” However, only 58% of women and 52% of men said that college was “very useful” in preparing them for a job or career.
  • A slim majority of college-educated women (50% to 47%) believe that college provides good to excellent value, while a wide majority of male graduates (37% to 59%) believe that it provides only a fair or poor value.
  • Women are more likely to have their degree paid for by their parents. For women, 40% said that most of their education was paid by parents, while only 19% said they paid for most themselves. Among men, 29% said most of their education was paid by parents and the same percentage said they paid the majority themselves. For both genders, 36% said that it was mostly paid by student loans, scholarships or financial aid.
  • More women than men believe that college is unaffordable. “Among college graduates, women are less likely than men to agree that most people can afford to pay for college (14% vs. 26%).”
  • Most Americans (57%) feel that the U.S. higher-education system is not providing sufficient value for the money spent by students and their families. Just 40% of all adults say schools are doing an excellent or good job in this regard. The majority of men (59%) feel the system is doing a fair or poor job, as do 47% of the women.

The related Pew study, “Is College Worth It?” looks at public attitudes toward university education, including cost and value. The report also includes data from a survey of the presidents of more than a thousand two- and four-year institutions.

Tags: higher education, African-American, Latino, Hispanic, race, gender, student loans

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