AEI Animated chart of the day: The remarkable story of female success in US higher education The animated “bar chart race” visualization above shows the remarkable rise of women in American higher education over the last 70 years, with projections for the next decade from the Department of Education, for the female share of colleges degrees (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctor’s) annually from 1950 to 2029. Here are some observations: 1. The female share of associate’s degrees (data only available starting in 1970) exceeded 50% for the first time in 1977 before surpassing 60% in 1996. 2. Women earned a majority of bachelor’s degrees starting in 1982, and have earned more than 55% of those degrees in every year since 1996. In recent years, women have earned more than 57% of US
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The animated “bar chart race” visualization above shows the remarkable rise of women in American higher education over the last 70 years, with projections for the next decade from the Department of Education, for the female share of colleges degrees (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctor’s) annually from 1950 to 2029. Here are some observations:
1. The female share of associate’s degrees (data only available starting in 1970) exceeded 50% for the first time in 1977 before surpassing 60% in 1996.
2. Women earned a majority of bachelor’s degrees starting in 1982, and have earned more than 55% of those degrees in every year since 1996. In recent years, women have earned more than 57% of US bachelor’s degrees, which means women earn 134.5 bachelor’s degrees for every 100 men graduating from college with an undergraduate degree.
3. For master’s degrees, women have earned a majority of those graduate degrees in every year since 1987. By 1996 women earned more than 55% of master’s degrees before surpassing a 60% share between 2007 and 2011 and then falling slightly below 60% in subsequent years. Starting in 1996, the female share of master’s degrees surpassed the female share of bachelor’s degrees for the first time, and in some years (2008-2010) the master’s-bachelor’s degree gap has been larger than 3 percentage points (about 60% female share of master’s degrees to 57% share of bachelor’s degrees). In the most recent year (2019), women earned nearly 60% of master’s degrees, so there were more than 149 women who earned a master’s degree for every 100 men! Starting in 2023, the female-male ratio for master’s degrees will be about 150-to-100.
4. In 2006, women earned the majority of doctor’s degrees (Ph.D., Ed.D., and first-professional degrees including M.D., D.D.S., and J.D.) for the first time and the female share of doctor’s degrees is expected to rise to nearly 54% by 2022 (117 females per 100 males).
Bottom Line: The visualization above displays graphically the remarkable rise and success of women in US higher education who have been the majority gender at America’s colleges and universities by enrollment for the last 40 years since 1979, and have been awarded the majority of bachelor’s degrees since 1982 and the majority of master’s degrees since 1987. That impressive educational success story for women in US higher education should be recognized and celebrated as perhaps the most remarkable story of academic achievement in US history. But that female success story overshadows some other stories that get far less attention — the growing under-representation of men in higher education and the increasing college degree gap favoring women, coupled with a disproportionate share of campus resources continuing to be directed towards female students.
For example, a recent study by the Maryland-based organization “Stop Abusive and Violent Environments (SAVE)” reviewed sex-specific scholarships at more than 200 US colleges and universities in 36 states and found in total that there were nearly 2,000 scholarships offered exclusively to female students at those schools and only 154 scholarships reserved for male students, which a ratio of more than 12 female-only scholarships for every male-only scholarship. Some of the schools with the greatest gender imbalances favoring women for financial aid include: Auburn University (67 female scholarships and only one for males), University of Phoenix (106 scholarships for females, 2 for men), Oregon State (51 female scholarships, 5 for men), University of Wyoming (45 female scholarships, 4 male) and Utah State (41 female scholarships, one male). Not only do those gender disparities in scholarship funding favoring female college students violate any general standard of equity, fairness, justice, and inclusion, those gender imbalances also likely violate Title IX’s prohibition of sex discrimination in higher education for institutions that receive federal financial assistance. According to SAVE:
For example, Kent State University in Ohio offers two scholarships for male students, compared to 11 scholarships reserved for females. In Academic Year 2018-19, each male undergraduate student was awarded an average scholarship of $1,567, compared to an average scholarship of $2,208 to each female student, based on information supplied by the university to the SAVE Title IX Equity Project. This $641 disparity represents a violation of the Title IX regulation, which requires that “the overall effect of the award of such sex-restricted scholarships, fellowships, and other forms of financial assistance does not discriminate on the basis of sex.”
Along with other single-gender, female-only educational programs like girl-only STEM camps and female-only faculty awards, the gender disparities in student financial aid favoring women will likely be the targets of complaints that those scholarship imbalances violate Title IX’s prohibition of sex discrimination. Beyond the legal issue of violating Title IX, the story of female success in higher education illustrated graphically above provides an additional reason that the disproportionate share of campus resources directed toward female students (a 12-to-1 ratio favoring women for scholarships cited above), while perhaps justified in the 1960s or 1970s, is totally outdated and no longer needed today. To the extent that addressing some gender disparities in higher education is sometimes selectively allowed without violating Title IX, you could make a much stronger case that the male underrepresentation in higher education illustrated above that has persisted and grown for 40 years deserves the attention today that the female underrepresentation in the 1960s rightfully, but no longer, deserves.