Women ride crest of new majority in student enrollments

By Diane Ainsworth, Public Affairs

17 January 2001 | Women broke new ground in undergraduate and graduate school enrollments at Berkeley in the fall of 2000. They made up 52.2 percent of the total undergraduate population and, for the first time, surpassed the number of men entering graduate school.

The shift to a female majority mirrors a nationwide trend first reported in 1992, when the number of young men entering college began to drop compared with their female counterparts. Males now make up 44 percent of undergraduate students nationwide. Looking at the next 10 years, federal projections indicate that their share will shrink to 42 percent by 2010.

Richard Black, assistant vice chancellor for undergraduate admissions, said the numbers are not surprising.

"The distribution between men and women is pretty close to the breakdown of men and women in California high schools," he said. "Fifty-two percent of high school graduates are women, and 52 percent of Berkeley undergraduates are women."

Several factors are causing the rise of female undergraduates, added Anne MacLachlan, a research specialist in the Berkeley Center for Studies in Higher Education. A woman's performance in high school seems to be the strongest indicator that she will go on to college.

"The national trend has been one in which women do better than men," she said. "Several U.S. Department of Education reports have shown that girls get better grades and have higher grade-point averages in high school than their male cohorts. Generally, their grade-point averages will be higher if they stick with it through the bachelor's degree too."

Women's studious habits may be the result, in part, of their anxiety over earning adequate wages once they've entered the work force, MacLachlan said.

"Wage disparity probably plays a role. Women are far more anxious about earning a living than men. They still earn only 85 cents to every dollar a man earns for the same work," she said. "Knowing that they are not going to make the same wages may drive them to higher standards."

In the last 25 years, women have been more inclined than men to go on to college directly out of high school, according to a new U.S. Department of Education report, commissioned in 1994 by Congress, titled "Trends in Educational Equity of Girls and Women."

In 1997, 70 percent of female high school graduates enrolled in a two- or four-year college, compared to only 64 percent of their male peers, the report said. That differs significantly from the profile 25 years earlier: in 1972, only 46 percent of women enrolled in two- and four-year colleges straight out of high school, compared to 53 percent of high school boys.

Women have gained the most ground in graduate school enrollments in recent years, however. Nationwide, they accounted for 56 percent of graduate students in 1996, compared with 39 percent of the graduate school enrollments in 1970, the U.S. Department of Education report pointed out. At Berkeley, women graduate students inched past men for the first time in the fall of 2000, outnumbering them by five.

The trend among minorities is less encouraging. MacLachlan, who is studying minority participation in California's scientific and high-tech work force, is conducting the first comprehensive longitudinal study of minority career paths and professional success among UC graduates over a 20-year period.

"In light of the abolition of affirmative action, higher educational institutions, including the UC system, are attempting to understand why and how the students they admit succeed, especially at the graduate level, where little research has been done to track successful minority Ph.D. recipients," MacLachlan said.

In 1980, when the Science and Engineering Equal Opportunities Act was passed, underrepresented minorities - namely blacks, American Indians, Chicanos and Hispanics - were 2 percent of all U.S. doctorates granted in physical science and 2.5 percent in engineering, her study points out. In 1990, the percentages were 3.4 percent and 3.6 percent respectively.

"Although the overall numbers are continuing to increase, it is alarming how slowly they are increasing," MacLachlan said. "According to the latest data used by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the rate of increase among black and Hispanic participation in graduate programs showed a very slow increase through 1999.


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