Women have gained ground in education over the last decade and now represent a majority of college students and college graduates, with many of the gains attributed to a growing number of older women pursuing degrees, according to a new analysis by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
A number of indicators show that women in higher education do as well as, or better than, their male peers in pursuing college, academic performance and degree completion. "Trends in Educational Equity of Girls & Women: 2004," released last month, draws upon published and unpublished data from the NCES, as well as from other national and international sources. More than three-dozen indicators in all went into the analysis, which looked at surveys by NCES and data from elementary through graduate school. It is a follow-up to a similar report published by the NCES in 2000.
"The data presented in this publication demonstrate that in elementary and secondary school and in college, females are now doing as well as or better than males on many indicators of achievement and educational outcomes," the report says. "And the large gaps that once existed between males and females have been eliminated in most cases and have significantly decreased in others."
The improvements were evident at all levels of education. At the elementary and secondary levels, for example, girls have surpassed boys in reading and writing, and they have caught up in mathematics and science, as well as on other measures, such as access to computers and participation in extracurricular activities.
The findings, which back up other studies and anecdotal evidence over the last few years, seem to indicate a turning of the tables on equity and elicited counter concerns that the education of boys and men might deserve more attention.
"The issue now is that boys seem to be falling behind," said outgoing U.S. Secretary of Education Roderick Paige last month. "We need to spend some time researching the problem so that we can give boys the support to succeed academically."
The shift has come gradually over the last three decades, according to Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. But the recent realization that males are falling behind could have a political impact.
"I think women have overused the argument that they are disadvantaged," he told the Associated Press. "They do have issues such as compensation for the work they do that remain to be resolved, and there are even education issues," but there has been progress.
However, despite the stronghold females have gained in education, at the postsecondary level the findings aren't as clear cut. "Nevertheless," the report states, "gender differences in majors still exist."
For example, women are still underrepresented in doctorate and professional programs and are less likely than men to major in science, engineering and computer science. …