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Study: Women's college alumnae more likely to complete a graduate degree
That support from professors is one reason why a new study shows that alumnae from women's colleges are more likely to complete a graduate degree than alumnae from private liberal arts colleges or flagship public universities, said Vivia Fowler, vice president for academic affairs and dean of Wesleyan College.
"Professors tell them they can and should go to graduate school," Fowler said.
Fifty-three percent of women's college alumnae reported they earned a graduate degree, compared with 38 percent of alumnae from liberal arts colleges and 28 percent of alumnae from public universities, according to a recent study by Hardwick-Day for the Women's College Coalition. Hardwick-Day is a consulting firm for private colleges and universities.
Wesleyan President Ruth Knox said she sees similar results at Wesleyan, based on surveys given to seniors about their post-graduation plans.
The recent report also shows students at women's colleges are more likely than women at public universities to graduate in four years.
This contributes to a majority of women's colleges' alumnae attending graduate school because it demonstrates students' diligence and persistence, Fowler said.
It also means students have less debt and can afford graduate school, she said.
Overall, the new research shows that women's colleges' alumnae report experiences as good or better than their liberal arts and public university counterparts. This includes participation in extracurricular activities, interaction with faculty and fellow students and even the likelihood of being married or partnered post-graduation.
Proponents of women's colleges say the study, which surveyed alumnae who graduated between 1970 and 1997, is significant because it looks at the long-term impact of the women's college experience. It also is one of the first to compare women's colleges to liberal arts colleges and public universities.
Critics say that maybe students who attend women's colleges already are more inclined to be good students and take advantage of opportunities offered to them. Fowler said that's a topic for another survey.
"Being comparable is at least an opportunity to dispel negativeness about women's colleges," she said of the current study. "People shouldn't say that women suffer (socially) going to women's colleges, and in fact, this research says women thrive at women's colleges."
Jarrett described herself as a shy bookworm before she attended Wesleyan, but she's not one anymore.
"I got to Wesleyan, and I was like, 'I'll try that. I could be class president. There's only 100 people. It can't be too bad,' " Jarrett recalled.
Now Jarrett has a long list of extracurricular activities, including freshman class president, co-captain of the soccer team and member of the biology honor society.
Anne Gormly, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculties at Georgia College & State University, said she isn't surprised by the study's results.
"Women's colleges have always been a place where students can find their place," Gormly said. "This comes up time and time again. Large, impersonal universities don't do as well."
Many women, including her own daughter, chose to attend a women's college for its small intimate environment, something Georgia College is trying to recreate, Gormly said.
That intimacy is more important than simply being single-gender, she said.
"I think women's colleges have their place, but there's nothing that would preclude success at a similarly-sized college," Gormly said.
But it's not just intimacy that encourages students to perform well at women's colleges, said Fowler, who earned her undergraduate degree from the all-female Columbia College in South Carolina.
"The single-gender experience to the student is one thing. But the intentionality on the part of the institution is the other thing," Fowler said. "Women's colleges are committed to empowering all women, and it's not accidental. Other colleges are committed to empowering all students."
Without men in the classroom or community, women can be uninhibited, Knox said. They don't worry if what they have to say may sound silly or what men may think about them, she said.
"When (those inhibitions are) taken away, I think it immediately creates a more open dialogue and more open communication," Knox said. "What really matters is the classroom experience where the student (has) the opportunity to find her voice and to speak freely and is challenged to think about what she's saying and whether her view is right."