Tribune Editorial: We should help Utah women finish college and continue on in their education

Ruth Watkins in the Park Building at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. Watkins will succeed David Pershing this Spring as president of The University of Utah. (Al Hartmann/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

A new study shows that while Utah is making strides in encouraging women to go to college, women still aren’t graduating as often as men.

We have been talking about this problem for decades. At least now women are starting college as often as men.

It’s an improvement.

Tuesday the state’s Women in the Economy Commission convened to recognize the release of a new study based on two decades of education data.

The study showed that the ratio of men and women enrolled in colleges and universities is improving. In fact, women now outnumber men on Utah’s college campuses, and they earn the majority of associate and bachelor’s degrees.

But difficulties remain. The data showed that women aren’t finishing degrees as often as men, and men outpace women in earning master’s and doctorate degrees.

As The Salt Lake Tribune’s Benjamin Wood reported, “Utah’s female college and university students are more likely to end up in the ‘some college, no degree’ category of educational statistics, and to self-select into lower-paying fields.”

That partly explains why women’s post-graduation salaries are lower than men’s. Women’s most frequent choice of majors also explains those figures; more women than men study education, and more men than women major in engineering, science, mathematics and business.

Programs like the recent SheTech conference, which encourages young girls to seek out education and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields, should help improve the disparity. More than 2,000 teenage girls gathered in Sandy in March to visit with more than 100 private-sector technology companies.

More women in higher education administration will also help move the numbers for degree-attainment. The recent hiring of University of Utah President Ruth Watkins is encouraging. It’s the first time the Board of Regents has chosen a woman to lead the state’s flagship university.

She will be a role model to female students who want to see women in leadership positions. And she will likely make it a priority to help women who start their degrees finish.

The survey also confirms what most people already know – getting married and having children affects women’s educational and professional goals much more than men’s. Single women with children at home have an even harder time completing degrees.

The report included three suggestions for policy makers: (1) on-campus support services for students with children, (2) additional research on gender disparity and (3) family-friendly workplace policies.

It’s the least we can do to help Utah women succeed.