While most women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe they should attend college, graduating from college is not ranked among their highest priorities, according to the latest findings of a study called the Utah Women and Education Project (UWEP).Raising a family was ranked as the highest priority for future lifestyle and career aspirations by the women in the study. Of those who participated in the study, 80 percent were LDS. Utah Valley University is hosting the UWEP, lead by researcher and associate UVU professor Susan Madsen.Madsen said, “This does explain some things. These women understand higher education is important mentally, and they say they’re being encouraged to get an education. But when they tried to explain their plan for going to and graduating from college, they haven’t thought out how to do it.”The two-year project, ending this May, has been researching why Utah women enroll (49 percent) and graduate college (50 percent) at lower rates than the national average of 57 percent and 59 percent, respectively.”We used to be above the national average in Utah,” Madsen said. “In the pioneer days, we had a lot of educated women. We are not going downhill really, but we are not increasing, but staying stagnant in Utah.”For interior design major at Utah State University, Valerie Curtis, going to college was always part of the plan.”Both of my parents went to college, so I didn’t see it as not an option,” Curtis said. “I knew that education was important to getting a good job for my future. I know that I can support myself in whatever happens.”The study’s findings are organized into 12 sections, called snapshots. The study has released its last research snapshots this week, focusing on the influence religion, values and aspirations have on young women in Utah going to college. Snapshot Ten found that LDS participants generally believe higher education is important and that their religion supports women going to college, but many do not feel they need to graduate.The study also found:- Many LDS women cannot envision a life of integration, meaning they can’t see themselves being concurrently married, having children and continuing college.- Some believe that women need to “give up” or “sacrifice” college for their husbands or families. Several participants said it was their “duty” to drop out of school.- For many of the LDS participants, going to college was placed in the same category as going to work. If they believe they should not work, they also believe they should not attend college.Curtis said, “People don’t put focus on how much you grow up in college, but just that you go so you can get a job. But I’ve learned so much about myself and life in my time in college.”Madsen said a key to getting more Utah women to graduate is teaching them to take an active role in preparing for their education.”We can’t just think that life is going to turn out the way we think it will. We might have more young women in Utah that believe bad things won’t happen, but even divorce rates are a little higher here,” Madsen said. “We want to send the message that college is important for everyone.”Ashley Christiansen, a junior at USU, said, “Someone had to push me to go to college because there is so much to do in order to get in, and then there’s ‘what next?’ financially once you’re in. My parents helped me know what to do, but it would’ve been hard on my own.”The participants ranked having a stable future as their second priority, even though college graduates earn more on average. The dissociation between the two did not surprise Madsen.”They have the sense, ‘I want security,’ but it seems to be coming from marriage where husbands provide that,” Madsen said.According to Snapshot Nine, most women plan to go to college, but the number of women who actually attend decreases when they get married or have a child. Madsen said only a small fraction actually go back to finish school.One participant, as quoted in Snapshot Twelve, said, “I got pregnant and had a baby right away. Then we decided our baby needed a sibling a year later, and I’ve just been up to my eyeballs in housework ever since.”According to the study, ranked lowest in women’s aspirations was the need to “influence significant political decisions.” This can be attributed to a lack of female participation in such activities, Madsen said, as early as high school.”Stepping up and actually making a difference as a leader is very low on the value list of recognition and achievement. Few women said anything about becoming a leader or influencing change,” Madsen said.Encouraging change is the goal of the study, and Madsen said having these conversations with young girls is the key.”Parents and people that influence these girls need to start it young. The earlier the decision is made, they will do the things that help them get ready to go to school, and they are more likely to go,” Madsen said. “Teach them all the reasons you go to college, like making a difference, teaching your kids and having a healthier family.”Madsen said she hopes people will use this research as “a guide to interventions.” To help educators and parents start the college conversation, UWEP will soon release three short videos detailing the benefits of higher education.More on UWEP is available at http://www.uvu.edu/wep/.
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