The progress of women in education

From preschool to freshman year at NYU, I have been around students from all walks of life and of all genders. Growing up, it never really occurred to me that the amount of girls attending school is quite remarkable. The current statistics have always been the norm for me. In fact, as of 2014, “Women accounted for 55 percent of undergraduates enrolled at four-year colleges in the United States...” Matt Rocheleau, Boston Globe. However, it wasn’t always like this in the United States and it still isn’t in many parts of the world today. Taking a look at the history of women and education in the U.S., we can see that getting to where we are now was certainly not an easy feat.

Around the mid-1800’s, schools designated for women’s education began to appear, and in the 1900s, women attending universities became more common. Throughout the 20th century, stereotypes and opposition were obstacles for women pursuing higher education, but with growing women’s rights movements, women were enabled to overcome many of the challenges. The presence of women in higher education institutions greatly increased; as of 2015, “In the 25-34 age group, 37.5% percent of women [had] a bachelor’s degree or higher, while only 29.5% of men [did]” Nolan Feeney, TIMEWhile the presence of women pursuing higher education in the United States has clearly progressed, there is still some work to be done.

There are many stereotypes about women regarding education; some believe that women are incapable of understanding certain topics, such as math, technology, or science, and shouldn't be studying or working in these fields. While these views are being challenged, women still face them on a regular basis. For example, these stereotypes might have an impact on the amount of women pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) degrees.

According to Ryan Noonan in the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of the Chief Economist’s 2017 report on Women in STEM, “Women filled 47 percent of all U.S. jobs in 2015 but held only 24 percent of STEM jobs”, and there have been very few changes to these statistics since the last study done on this topic using data from 2009. Why this is the case is still under speculation, but one cause could be that “...strong gender stereotypes discourage women from pursuing STEM educations and STEM jobs.”

Recently, I was told that women should not even work in STEM jobs, specifically engineering. This stereotype, which underestimates women's capabilities, could deter women from pursuing STEM educations, and thus not pursuing STEM jobs. In fact, “Engineers are the second largest STEM occupational group, but only about one out of every seven engineers is female”. This needs to change.

In the United States even just 50 years ago, and in many parts of the world today, higher education was and still is very inaccessible to many women. The progress women have made thus far is an outstanding accomplishment, and while obstacles still exist, women’s efforts to pursue higher educations in the United States outshine them.

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