March 28, 2013

Imbalance in College Degrees

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Q: Are women outpacing men in earning college degrees in Oklahoma?

A: Overall, yes, by a significant margin, although the gap is only slight for bachelor’s degrees at the largest universities. Men, in fact, still earn higher percentages of advanced degrees at those schools. (See data below on men vs. women in getting degrees at each Oklahoma college.)

There is a growing national concern about the imbalance between men and women in obtaining college degrees. A recent book, “The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What it Means for American Schools,” found that from 1960 to 2010, women’s share of total bachelor’s degrees rose from 40 percent to 57 percent.

A Bureau of Labor Statistics report released this month found that by 25 years of age, 30 percent of women and 22 percent of men had received a bachelor’s degree.

In general, Oklahoma is following the trend. Data from the Oklahoma Board of Regents indicates that in 2011-2012, women earned 62 percent of associate’s degrees, 58 percent of bachelor’s degrees and 56 percent of master’s degrees. Men earned 56 percent of doctorate degrees. Among all degrees, women earned 58 percent.

At the University of Oklahoma, women earned 51 percent of bachelor’s degrees; at Oklahoma State University, they earned 50 percent. However, at both schools, men obtained well over half of master’s and doctorate degrees.

Women led by the greatest margin at the OU Health Sciences Center, earning 87 percent of degrees and dominating in bachelor’s, master’s and doctorates.

So what’s going on?

One factor is that young people are waiting longer to marry and more women are pursuing careers that require a college education, experts say.

In Oklahoma, fewer men may go to college because they decide instead to take jobs that are traditionally male-dominated and that pay decent wages immediately, such as truck driving, said Tony Hutchison, State Regents for Higher Education vice chancellor for workforce and economic development. Many men may intend to get a college degree later but never do so, he said.

Women also may attend college at increased rates because they view the move as more essential to increase their economic situation. In Oklahoma, women take more college preparatory courses on average than men, Hutchison said.

In 2011, Gov. Mary Fallin announced an effort to increase college graduates in Oklahoma by 67 percent, from 30,500 degrees awarded a year to 50,900, citing a changing economy that requires post-secondary education. In 2009, about 23 percent of Oklahoma residents aged 25 years or older had a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That compared with the national average of 28 percent.

“We are hoping we can get the message to both men and women that post-secondary training will be to their benefit,” Hutchison said.