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Across the country, and in River Falls, women outnumber men in college

Falcon News Service

October 12, 2016

Women have gained a significant increase in status since the 1960s and 1970s, resulting in females now constituting most college students in the United States, and the trend has held true on the UW-River Falls campus for many years.

Females accounted for 3,660 of the 5,958 students on the UWRF campus last school year, or 61.4 percent. Males totaled 2,298, or just 38 percent.

More women than men have attended college almost constantly since most universities became open to female students, according to Cyndi Kernahan, assistant dean for teaching and learning in UWRF’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“That history isn’t as far back as most people think,” Kernahan said. “It was only in the ’60s and ’70s when universities really started becoming co-ed.”

She said she believes the reason behind this statistic is simply due to economic opportunity. Talk of a “wage gap” is ever-present in the media today, as women across the board still make just 79 cents for every dollar a man makes, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The gap is decreasing as more and more women become degree holders, Kernahan said.

“I think the biggest reason more women go to college seems to be economic,” Kernahan said. “If you look at wages, you see that women don’t earn as much as men, period, but they definitely can’t earn as much with just a high school diploma as a man could. Women have really embraced education and gone to school since they’ve had the opportunity. Women now constitute the majority of bachelor’s degree holders.”

However, Kernahan said the gender disparity on the UWRF campus is better now than it was before the 2008 financial recession started. Most of the jobs created after the start of the post-recession recovery have gone to people with degrees, and that’s enticed more male students to work for that piece of paper.

“During times of recession, we saw it at River Falls, a lot more men left than women, the numbers evened out,” she said. “And now it’s down from what it’s been in the past. After the recession men saw that they couldn’t be secure in their jobs without a degree.”

Despite the high number of women on campus, there aren’t too many programs that are targeted toward just females. Advice on reproductive health is offered, and a clinic off campus is free for students to visit. Counselors specializing in relationship violence and abuse also are available.

Kernahan said there likely aren’t too many ways that campuses can cater exclusively to the needs of female students. Besides upper body strength, there really aren’t many inherent differences between males and females. Rather, the differences in what’s perceived as gender is socialized from the time we are babies, she said. Boys are pushed more toward independence and logical thinking, whereas girls are pushed toward emotion, she said. This could lead to the difference in the so-called wage gap, to an extent.

“There have been large scale studies done on this topic, and what they consistently find is that we just treat male and females, babies even, differently; we reinforce different behaviors,” Kernahan said. “We tend to force language and emotion in girls and independence and aggressiveness in boys, and that’s all the way through school. From science class to language class, those go in gendered directions; we expect one gender to do better than the other, so it sets up this feedback loop.”

Kernahan did emphasize that universities could be doing more to attract male students to their campuses.

“I think there are some things we could do to pull those male populations in,” she said. “Because in truth, especially now, they are not going to do economically OK without a degree. I read a statistic that 99 percent of all jobs created since the recession have gone to people with a bachelor’s degree. That’s amazing, and it tells us we have to do more to get boys to go to college.”