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A Few Answers To Why Utah Women Aren’t Graduating From College

On Tuesday, first lady Michelle Obama announced a new campaign goal of having 62 million girls around the world attending school, including institutions of higher education. That can be a challenge according to one Utah Valley University researcher in Utah who said there is a 10 percent lower rate of women graduating from college in the state compared with the rest of the country.

Susan Madsen is a professor of leadership and ethics at UVU. Four years ago she researched why Utah women aren’t graduating from college. She found hundreds and hundreds of reasons, but she said the most interesting findings involved women’s perceptions.

“If they believe that they can’t continue to go to college after they get married or have that first baby then, that’s an issue,” Madsen said. “And that does explain why we’re struggling with women staying in college and actually getting those degrees.”

Women she studied in Utah felt working toward a degree meant they were only concerned about making money rather than focusing on family. They were unaware of programs available to help mothers who wanted to attend college or university.       

“Over and over again we saw that women felt they were encouraged to go to college—to actually get to college,” Madsen said. “But they really believed that they weren’t being encouraged by others, by church leaders, by other influences to actually stay in college and graduate from college. So they were just hearing that you’re supposed to go to college, but graduate, that’s not something they had thought about. So that’s a major finding.”

Madsen said, because there are so many benefits when women have their education, it’s important for women and those who influence them, like parents, teachers and religious leaders to rethink what a college degree means.

“I have reports that go through the parenting benefits and the benefits to society when women are educated,” Madsen said. “And so when they think that they’re going to stay at home and do kids and nothing’s ever going to happen to their spouses and all of those things, it really is a risk for society.”

Madsen will present her findings during a woman and leadership conference at UVU in October.