Every week, I hear stories from Utah women — teens, young adults and older — saying they have been told that women don’t need college degrees to be successful in their “roles” and lives.
I hear this constantly from people who live in Utah County. Maybe it’s because I work and live here, and love it, or maybe it’s because those beliefs and attitudes are more prevalent here — I’m not sure.
What I do know, however, is that getting a college education changes lives — for men, women, and families. I have been working for nearly a decade within the state of Utah to help get more women to attend and graduate from college, and we are making progress. Yet, we are still below national averages in terms of women graduating. I have done extensive research on this topic in Utah and have heard from thousands of women through the years about their experiences. These are two of the most common themes I hear:
First, just last week, a young woman told me that she was recently advised by an LDS youth leader that to be a “good Mormon mother” she didn’t need to go to college.
This is not true. Hundreds of studies have found that a college/university education — particularly at the bachelor’s degree attainment level — helps women in all areas of their lives. For example, more educated women spend more time reading to their children, prepare children better academically for school, and provide healthier lifestyles for their children.
More educated women live longer lives, have an overall healthier lifestyle, have increased life satisfaction and overall happiness and are less depressed. They participate substantially more in civic and community activities, they earn more money and are better prepared to support themselves and their families. More educated women have stronger self-esteem and leadership skills, higher critical and creative thinking abilities, increased capacity to integrate ideas and concepts and so much more.
Also, there are many quotes by LDS church leaders encouraging women to seek higher education. For example, Brigham Young has been quoted as saying, “If I had a choice of educating my daughters or my sons because of opportunity constraints, I would choose to educate my daughters.” And, speaking to young adults, both men and women, President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “You must get all of the education that you possibly can. Life has become so complex and competitive.”
Second, many young women — or those who influence them — do not believe they can or should integrate school and family. So, after women get married or have their first child, they quit school. There seems to be a socialized perception that it is “all or nothing” or “either/or” instead of “and” — family and college. Integration is the key for women to prepare themselves for a fulfilling life. There are so many options now for women to continue school. They can attend part-time during the evening or on weekends, take online classes, go full-time during the summers when they have extra help with children, and so forth.
In the spring 2018 issue of BYU Magazine, M. Russell Ballard stated that with hard work, sacrifice, planning, and spousal support, women can handle both marriage and education.
When Utah women hold associate, bachelors and graduate degrees, they are better able to realize their own potential for positive influence and contributions to the public and private good; positively influence and contribute effectively in personal/family, societal, and work contexts; and contribute to the local, social, and economic development of Utah. This is what families, communities and the state needs to continue to thrive in ways that benefit everyone.
Other key research and resources on this topic can be found through the Utah Women & Leadership Project at http://utwomen.org.