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Women in Pursuit of a Higher Education: A Review of Literature

Carlos Cortes
University of Texas at El Paso



This literature review is intended to inform the reader the situation that women had
passed all over the time in order to pursue a higher education and a better quality of life.
Nowadays women represent more than the 60% of the undergraduates and graduates students all
over the universities in the United States. However, the main problem discussed is that this
women have not received the same treatment than man at the moment of interacting with
professors, accessing to doctoral levels or even applying for leadership roles in any association
or job. Many of these women concord that the chance of competing with man for important roles
is very difficult. The culture in which our society is living today makes people grow with a sexist
thinking of what women should do and what man should do. After finishing the primary research
which consists of an interview about which is the most popular major of women. More than the
50% conclude that nursing could be the career with more womens enrolled which was true.
However, the lack of thinking about women on STEM (Science Technology Engineering and
Mathematics) degrees was imminent. All these problems came primary thanks to the culture and
traditions society had about every sex. Finally, the literature review made to know all the
organizations and movements that people has made in order to solve this problem. Organizations
such as AWIS (Association for Women in Science), and AAUW (American Association of
University Women) were presented.


Education has meant for many the opportunity to learn, to excel and achieve personal goals
that in the future would be rewarded with a steady job and a good quality of life. For others, it
means breaking paradigms and stereotypes that our society has planted throughout history. It
means showing the world that they are equally able to excel despite the retrograde thinking of a
community and that also they are able to achieve goals and dreams that just a few believe it
possible. This has been the case of millions of women around the world as well as throughout
history. When Harvard, the first school of higher education in the US, was opened in 1936
education was solely for men with the aim of becoming them the leaders and professionals the
country needed on that time. For a long time, the role of women in society was limited to home
and children care. It was not until the mid-19th century when institutions that allowed the entry of
women were created. It was at that point where the struggle of women to be established in
colleges and start fulfilling careers that anyone could think before began. Nowadays women not
only has accomplished to establish on universities in all around the country but has also
outnumbered the number of graduates even than man. This data could end the discussion of this
writing, however, the problem lies not only in the fact that women can get a higher education but
also in the treaty that these have the time to be inside the institution as well as to upon
graduation. To better understand the problem that women have seen under higher education is
essential to analyze the following questions:

Where does woman stand today in terms of higher education?

Which field of education is most popular among women?
How much does the culture of society could affect women educational success?
What efforts have been made to improve the situation of women in higher education?


This questions will narrow the purpose of this literature review by analyzing the current
situation, find the causes and the solutions people has made on the situation. Also a primary
research made by the author will be used with the purpose of finding a common relation between
the facts given by other sources and the results obtained on it. This primary source will be as a
survey form narrowed to the second question presented before. Thanks to this the investigation
and certification of this review will be complete.
Where does woman stand today in terms of higher education?
In order to give a posture and determine the strengths and weaknesses this problem has, is
important to understand where is women in higher education standing today, what are they
fighting for and what have they already achieved.
According to an investigation made by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and
Cultural Organization (UNESCO) with the participation of The International Federation of
University Women and the International Development Research Centre, since 1979 the number
of women enrolled in college as well as the number of women completing their degrees has been
more than men in the United States. Conversely this tendency is practically the same all around
the world. This posture is also supported by ICEFs organization (International Consultants for
Education and Fairs) since its results are pretty similar to the ones obtained by UNESCO. In the
US, almost the 60% of the university graduates are women, as well as the masters degrees and a
43% at the doctoral level. However, the fact that the number of women into undergraduate level
has grown does not mean that women have finished in their pursuit of success.
As Gloria L. Blackwell (Vice President of Fellowships, Grants & Global Programs,
AAUW) said in a discussion about the same topic at the GW's Morton Auditorium, People think


that there is so many women on campus, they are like locus saying there are so plagued of
women and I say, the number of women on campus has not translated into women in leadership
positions, whether is in business, in academia, so it does not mean these women has now come
and take over society. The numbers and statistics showed in every study obscure the reality of
the situation, if it is true that there are more women than men in higher education, the reality is
that they do not receive the same treatment. Data show that men are more likely to be tenured
and to be hired in those kinds of positions. They are also likely to be paid more than women.
Seventy percent of male faculty members are tenured compared with 46 percent of female
faculty 6. Over 92 percent of faculty men are in tenure-track positions compared with less than
81 percent of faculty women 7. Salaries, too, are lower for women at every level. While the
prevalence of bias appears to be declining, there are still many male professors who believe that
women are less qualified than men for academic careers.
In summary, the main barrier that women have in education is to achieve important roles
such as in any job or organization they could go, as well as completing high educational
exigency like the doctoral level. The numbers do not lie and it is clear that in comparison with
the other education levels, the doctoral degree still being low for females. Most of the time
women decide to quit from doing a doctoral since they start having a family, they get married
or/and get pregnant, living them without the necessary time or income to confront both
responsibilities. Also, there are many cases where the husbands gets promoted to another place
and by the traditional expectation of primacy the husbands should have, women stop their
studies in order to stay together.


Regrettably it cannot be ignored that for many cases all around the world sexual
harassment has been a big obstacle for women. According to the UNESCOs research Cases of
male faculty soliciting female graduate students for sexual favors are frequently reported. Studies
indicate that such activities are significantly under-reported, especially since many women fear
that they will not be believed, that nothing will happen to the harasser that they will face
retribution if they bring charges against their professors and that it will interfere with their
Which field of education is most popular among women?
For a long time, it has been a trend in careers where women predominate and others
where men are most numerous. Nowadays this phenomenon has not changed and there is a
tendency on the degrees women could have against the careers that normally are for men.
In order to identify this tendency that many kind of research have already talked about, a
primary research conducted by the author had to be done. On this research it was decided to
implement a 20 persons survey in order to know the popular thinking about what does women
usually decide to study and why does this happen. The survey was conducted totally randomized
in order to obtain the most varied results and answers of the people. It was made at the
University of Texas at El Paso with the objective of seeing the thinking of the students nowadays
and compare them with the ones of 10 years ago. The structure of the survey was very simple
since it was made by two simple questions which were:

Which field of education is most popular among women?

Do you think that women have the same capacity than men in order to achieve
any degree?


Although the results of the survey are limited to the amount of the sample in my
interview they coincide with the results and conclusions of the Forbes survey. On figure 1
the results of the survey made at UTEP are shown.

Most popular careers for women







Figure 1. Interview results, where the most popular answer was nursing with a
55%, followed by the branch of business with 23%. The results coincide with
the investigation conducted by the Forbes Company.

After obtaining the results of the survey, more than the 55% of the population think that
nursing is the most popular major for women. These results make sense since just the 84.5% of
this major is made by women and just a 14.6% are men. The second answer more voted was
Business which also makes sense at the moment because almost the 50% the business graduates
are women. However, it is interesting to see that in both kinds of research the percentage of
answering in terms of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects
were practically 0%. This means that the majority of the population does not expect to have
women studying degrees related to science and engineering. For that reason the second question
of the authors interview was made, in order to see if it is a pure stereotype or in fact is a thinking
of inferiority. As a result, the results find that the 100% of the interviewers answered yes, all the


population involved think that women have the capacity of achieving any degree? However the
percentage of women engineers in college is just the 14% of the overall, and in science is almost
the same percentage, all this according to an article called Why Are There Still So Few Women
in Science? done by The New York Time Magazine.
They conclude that a combination of stereotypes rooted, parental expectations, lack of
female referents, distrust of Mathematics and little visible social utility carried mostly university
to enroll in the health disciplines, Humanities or Social Sciences and Law.
How much does the culture of society could affect women educational success?
As it was mention before, there are many thinks that can affect the development and success of a
woman in her aim of pursuing a higher education. Subjects such as stereotypes, traditions and
ultimately the culture are the primary causes of making women stop on their reach of success.
This point of view is repeated in every single paper dedicated to gender equality in education.
If we return to the fact presented in the previous section, where certain majors are made
for women and other mainly for men as those related to science and engineering, we can witness
a way of thinking in which the culture has marked us has the society of today. According to the
investigator Jose Bunner, the culture has said the path in which women and men should develop.
However, he brings to the discussion the biological differences between women and men and
how this could be a factor in favor to the historical thinking of everyone. He said,
There are certain careers that in our culture, and again is an international phenomenon in the
West, tend to be valued as more feminine than masculine. It is likely that this affinity comes from
a kind of projection of the traditional maternal role towards certain occupations and trades


However it has been proved that the biological differences women could have does not
determine the role they should have in the society. Every year thousands of women graduate as
engineers or scientist, that even it still being a minority, it proves that women are able to do these
kinds of jobs.
Another difficulty women have to defeat in order to go to college, is the parental thinking of
letting the daughter leave the house in order to achieve a higher education. For a student, the
emotional and financial support her parents could have is essential for the accomplishment of
going to college. However, for a father or mother is not as easy as looks like, let their daughter
leave home.
There are many cases where parents do not let their daughter go to college and their
posture came for many reasons. According to Raylan Alleman, sending women to college could
provoke a negative effect in society and in the student. For these reasons Alleman suggest to
parents to not send their daughter to college. Below are witnessing some of the arguments used
by him:
1. She will be in a near occasion of sin. Just think of the environment that college-age
students live in. You have a heavy concentration of young people all living together
without the supervision of parents at the most sexually charged state of life they will
2. She will not learn to be a wife and mother. Nothing that is taught in a college curriculum
is geared toward domestic homemaking. On the contrary, it is training in a very
masculine role of a professional career. So there becomes a severe inner conflict in a
woman when she starts trying to be a homemaker and juggle a career alongside it.



3. The cost of a degree is becoming more difficult to recoup. Like anything that is
subsidized by the government, the cost of a college degree is inflated. That being the
case, it can often be difficult or impossible to get an adequate payoff for the investment.

What efforts have been made to improve the situation of women in higher education?
In order to give support to all those women trying to pursue a higher education, many
organizations and movements has been created in order to help women in the financial,
psychological and professional subjects they could have trouble with.
One of the biggest organizations that concerns about this problematics and helps women
to achieve their goals is, AAUW (American Association of University Women). AAUW has been
empowering women as individuals and as a community since 1881. For more than 130 years,
they have worked together as a national grassroots organization to improve the lives of millions
of women and their families. Thanks to this organization, women around the world had had the
opportunity of going to college and achieve their goals and dreams. Through financial support,
leadership seminars, STEM, and research this organization help these women to have a good
college life and succeed in anything they like.
There is also another association that has the aim to help all those women that are
involved in science subjects. AWIS (Association for Women in Science) is the largest multidisciplinary organization for women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
(STEM). They are dedicated to driving excellence in STEM by achieving equity and full
participation of women in all disciplines and across all employment sectors. AWIS reaches more
than 20,000 professionals in STEM with members, chapters, and affiliates worldwide. This



organization has also a vision where they could help to fight against the traditional thinking
about women on education. A few of their objectives are to, compensated fairly and without
discrimination, advanced equitably and without bias, exposed to successful role models in
leadership positions and recognized and respected for their scientific and leadership
achievements. All this according with its official web page.
It is clear that there are much more organizations that have the mission or objective of
helping women to succeed and eradicate the stigma men have over them all around the country.
However this two organizations represents the greatest and oldest communities in the field
making them important for this research.
After finishing this literature review, the approach that has this problem should not be the
same. Thanks to it now we have a more comprehensive picture of the situation because we know
their causes and possible consequences this can and has done, as well of the largest organizations
in this country that have tried to make a difference for all women. However, it is also known that
there are other perspectives of the situation and the thinking of do not letting women achieve a
higher education. Although there is something that is clear, women nowadays have achieved
something that very few thought years ago. They have positioned in a way never seen before, by
overcoming and passing in numbers to men. But it is also clear that the obstacles that they could
have cannot be compared with the obstacle men could have, leaving us the incognita of knowing,
if this problem can be overcome someday.



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