Want girls in your classes? Survey suggests increase in female degrees

A newly released study is debunking the myth that men are attaining college degrees at a higher rate than women. The most recent U.S. Census Bureau report on educational attainment reported that in the past five years the number of women with college degrees has increased by 1.2 percent, while the number of men has decreased by 1 percent.

“How significant is 1 percent?” asked Yasaswi Raparla, a first-year ECE major. “We are steadily increasing the number of people we have from a population to go to college, so a drop of 1 percent for one demographic is holistically insignificant.”

Grace DeForest, a senior mathematics major and statistics teaching assistant. addressed Raparla’s questions.

“While a 1 percent drop is not significant in itself, it is definitely something to look to as a possible trend for the future,” said DeForest.

The number of men with college degrees still surpasses women; 30 percent of men have degrees, compared to 28 percent of women.

DeForest suggested that the study would have been more effective if it had addressed women who had recently been accepted and were planning to enroll in colleges, instead of simply looking at graduation rates.

However, as DeForest pointed out, the new data reported by the survey have the potential to change these figures.

The negative trend in men has been attributed to factors such as feminized classrooms, according to a recent article in The Chicago Sun-Times. In general, this theory dictates that classrooms call for orderly and quiet conduct with an emphasis on cooperation, and young boys entering the educational plane are often ostracized due to their desire to work independently. On the other hand, the number of women succeeding in higher education has drastically increased, maybe because college provides a conducive learning environment, the article suggested.

Hilary Baribeau, a first-year H&SS student, suggested female empowerment as the main cause for the increasing trend in females with degrees.

“I think that because of women empowerment movements, women have been pushed to do better and compete with men,” Baribeau said. “In today’s world, the standards have risen for women, so they are more compelled to exert themselves in higher education today than they have been in the past; however, no such movement has occurred for males to further push themselves.”

DeForest, president of Strong Women, Strong Girls, agreed with Baribeau.

“I think that women have learned not just that they can handle college, but rather that it is there as a viable option for them,” she said.
Baribeau attributes the lack of motivation for men to do better as a big contributor to their stagnant trend in attaining degrees.

“Men are traditionally more likely to have higher wages than women,” said Baribeau. “So they are not being pushed to increase their personal standards.”
Raparla echoes the idea of gender-driven motivation.

“Younger women can see that they now have more opportunities,” he said. “So they see that they can also make a difference or impact with their education level, and this propels the amount of women compelled to obtain degrees in higher education.” However, although the number of women receiving degrees is increasing faster than that of men, it seems that the Carnegie Mellon demographic almost counters this trend.

According to university data, the gender ratio is three men for every two women.

James Pan, a first-year chemistry major, addressed this deviation at Carnegie Mellon.

“I would say Carnegie Mellon is a tech school and a lot of tech stuff appeals more to guys than girls, and this may contribute to more men attaining degrees than women,” said Pan. “If you look to other schools like Caltech, they have about 75 percent guys and only 25 percent girls.”

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a primarily engineering institution, has a men-to-women ratio of 3:1. However, MIT boasted a new even ratio in 2007.

The 3:2 gender ratio, then, is likely specific to Carnegie Mellon and the programs it offers. When asked about his own personal experience in his major classes, Pan reported different gender ratios in varying areas of study.

“In applied sciences, like engineering, there are more guys than girls,” said Pan. “But in pure sciences, it seems to be an even mix because it’s less technical. The general trend is that more tech schools appeal more to guys and that’s why they want more women engineers.”

Raparla agreed with Pan on the effects of the studies offered at Carnegie Mellon on the gender ratio.

“As far as Carnegie Mellon goes, there is a lack of women in the tech field. It’s because there isn’t as much of an expectation for women to do well with math,” said Raparla. “If women didn’t think that they needed to do so well in social sciences as opposed to math and sciences, we wouldn’t be having this problem that we have.”

Even though a nationwide trend seems to pose new questions for researchers, for now at least, Carnegie Mellon remains a male-dominated university.