Throughout the history of higher education in the U.S. there has been an overlying theme of male dominance. Universities and colleges began as institutions specifically for men to study, earn diplomas and enter into the job force.
Yet, studies from recent years have shown that the number of females in higher education is rising to meet the number of males. And in the past five years, the number of women has exceeded that of men.
CSU is one university that reflects this trend. In fact, 52 percent of the students who were enrolled in the 2006-2007 school year were women, according to the CSU Fact Book.
In the 2006-2007 school year, 72 percent of the students enrolled in veterinary medicine and biomedical sciences were women, which is a giant leap from CSU’s roots.
Although females are beginning to saturate the classroom, the uphill climb toward equalizing the gender gap has not necessarily been easy.
Laying the groundwork
Dr. Robert Shideler attended CSU when veterinary medicine and biomedical sciences was only beginning to blossom into the high-ranked program it would later become. He graduated in 1948, when the university was still called Colorado A&M College. The year he graduated, only one-fifth of the total students were women, according to CSU enrollment statistics.
One woman was in veterinary medicine.
“The student population ratio of men to women in my day was 10 percent women and 90 percent men,” Dr. Shideler said. “Now it’s the reverse of that.”
The change, as far as veterinary medicine is concerned, is a direct result of the gender ratio of who is applying, Shideler said.
“The application pool is mostly women,” he said of today’s enrollment. “That doesn’t really say anything about either gender, it’s just the way it is.”
Nicolas Booth, a veterinary medicine graduate of the 1951 class, saw similar circumstances during his time at CSU, but he did see an increase in female enrollment.
“About 25 percent of the students were women when I was in school,” Booth said. “And in veterinary medicine it was much less than that.”
Yet, Booth believed in educating women as well as men, even if it wasn’t the majority opinion.
“Women should get an education, I’ve never seen it any other way,” Booth said. “There were some people who felt that women didn’t need to get a college degree, though.”
The women who did earn degrees in the 50’s, however, were mostly concentrated in the College of Home Economics, Booth said.
A Shift in the Trend
Twenty years after Booth graduated from the veterinary school and after the U.S. gradually entered into the Vietnam War, popular culture shifted. So too, did the expectations of women as more and more began stepping outside of the home and into universities.
Although, in 1970, the total number of men enrolled at CSU still nearly tripled that of women, according to CSU enrollment statistics. And the trend of women in home economics continued, while the men populated agriculture, engineering and veterinary medicine.
In the early 70’s Susan Usel found herself among an influx of females entering CSU. She majored in hearing and speech science, which was overwhelmingly populated by more women than men.
“Yeah it wasn’t good for meeting guys,” Usel said. “My classes were dominated by females.”
And Usel knew how important it was to meet the guys.
This may have been because the university wasn’t a place where women were expected to learn, it was a place where they were expected to find their husbands and begin a family, Usel said.
Some called it the MRS degree.
“Women went to school to find a mate,” she said. “There was a lot of pressure to find a husband.”
And many women she knew did follow the traditional path of marriage and children.
“Most women I knew got married just after school and then started having kids,” she said.
Gayle Adams, also a CSU student in the early 70’s, agrees that there was pressure to get hitched.
“Getting married was equally important,” Adams said. “And if I didn’t get married, then the degree was even more important.”
In those days, many women were told that getting married was actually more important than receiving an education, Adams said.
So, with an exaggerated emphasis on the wedding vows and such little emphasis on the diploma, it may not be altogether surprising that it took a few more years for women to begin significantly filling up seats in classes other than home economics.
By 1979, the number of female students enrolled at CSU was almost equal to that of the number of males, according to CSU enrollment statistics. The concentration of women was still in humanities and home economics, but more women began entering veterinary medicine, business and engineering – predominantly male-saturated majors.
Pam Schwartz, a CSU graduate in 1979, was among the female-dominated classes of human development and family relations, formerly coined home economics.
“The program was really good, I learned a lot about life,” Schwartz said. “But there’s not a lot you can do with it.”
In fact, Schwartz went on after earning her degree to be a teacher’s aid and then a secretary. Then, years later, she went back to school to earn her teaching certificate.
“I’m not sure what most women went on to do with their degrees,” she said.
Along with more women going into higher education, Schwartz also found that there was less stress on finding a husband and more on actually getting an education.
“We all had boyfriends come and go,” she said. “It was not expected that by the end of college I had a husband.”
But it was expected that she earn her diploma, which was a different experience than many women had before her.
“My parents insisted that I go to college,” Schwartz said.
Dominating the Classroom
Now the number of women in higher education exceeds the number of men in institutions across the nation. At CSU alone, the number of females is equal to or exceeds the number of males in almost all majors.
In fact, the only major that has a significantly higher percentage of males is engineering, according to the CSU Fact Book.
Adams, who once was a student enrolled in plant pathology, now finds herself back inside the classroom. Although now, she says, things have changed.
“It used to be that the majority were guys, especially in math classes, but now it’s pretty even-steven,” Adams said.
Although women have shoved their feet into the doors of higher education, there still may be a struggle to significantly enter the job force and receive pay that is consistently equal to that of men.
Women on average earn about 76.5 percent of the male average salary – or 76 cents to the dollar – according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
“I think women are accepted into more fields now, but I still don’t think women have as much earning power as men,” Schwartz said. “Women still make less money.”
News editor Jessi Stafford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org