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Survey: Female students report more barriers to higher education

By Genelle Pugmire - | Oct 26, 2022

Courtesy Jaren Wilkey, BYU

Research from BYU found that students who participate in multiple field trips during a school year have higher test scores, perform better in class and have increased cultural conscientiousness over time.

A survey conducted by Envision Utah focuses on the perceptions of higher education of more than 6,000 students from 8th to 12th grade was the focus of the latest research and policy brief by the Utah Women & Leadership Project.

Some of the findings indicate that more female students have postsecondary plans, about 82%, while only 76.6% of male students plan on attending a 4-year college, 2-year college or trade school.

The survey indicates that young women are more concerned about school debt than young men. For example, 41.7% of male respondents were comfortable with $5,000 or more in student debt, compared to about one-third (34.5%) of female respondents.

Male students, more than their female counterparts, believed getting a bachelor’s degree would give them an annual wage increase of $20,000 or more compared to just a high school diploma. Only 45% of the women believed this to be true.

When asked about barriers to attending college, female students perceived each potential barrier as more significant than the males. Except for lack of interest in attending college, these differences were statistically significant, according to the survey.

Barriers to higher education fell under two main categories: resources and self-efficacy and mental health.

Resource barriers related to the cost and time commitment of higher education, as well as the lack of information about getting into college. Self-efficacy barriers related to taking standardized tests and the fear of a new environment also showed up in the survey.

Of note, mental health showed the greatest gender difference among all rated barriers. On a scale of 1 (least significant) to 7 (most significant), female students’ average rating was 4.0, compared to 3.1 for male students.

As part of the survey, students were asked about solutions to college barriers. Female students said having more information and resources about paying for college was the most effective, about a 5.8 on the 1-7 scale, followed by information on the application process at a 5.7. Male students rated these two barrier solutions the same, at 5.3.

Susan Madsen, director of the Women & Leadership Project, noted that her team encouraged Utah policy makers and educators at all levels to, “seriously consider what female students perceive to be significant barriers to attending college, and how these barriers might contribute to gender gaps in graduation rates.”

“We encourage more initiatives that focus on covering the costs of higher education, providing information to students, improving mental health, and increasing diversity and belonging,” the survey team concluded. “In our efforts to close gender gaps in higher education, most–if not all–solutions will mutually benefit all secondary students as they pursue higher education and better their futures.”

The whole survey and its findings are available at https://usu.edu/uwlp/files/briefs/46-perceptions-of-higher-education-gender-differences-utah-secondary-school-students.pdf.


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