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Contact: Debra Humphreys, VP for Communications and Public Affairs
202-387-3760 (ext. 422)

New Data on Women in Higher Education Released by Program on the Status and Education of Women (PSEW)

AAC&U Report, A Measure of Equity: Women's Progress in Higher Education evaluates progress, recommends action steps to continue to move the equity agenda forward

Washington, DC - January 22, 2009 - At its annual meeting in Seattle, Washington, the Association of American Colleges and Universities released today a new report, A Measure of Equity: Women's Progress in Higher Education, written by Judy Touchton, with Caryn McTighe Musil and Kathryn Peltier Campbell.  Published through AAC&U's Program on the Status and Education of Women, the monograph summarizes the most current data on women and gender equity in higher education.

Organized according to the pipeline from high school graduation to presidential leadership in the academy, this report documents trends in women's status in higher education since the last overview of data issued by the American Council on Education in 1995. When possible, it provides data about women across race, ethnicity, age, and income.  A Measure of Equity also compares the gains that women have made in the last decade or more and identifies areas still resistant to change.

Through short reflections called "Hot Points," the monograph also draws attention to pressing issues that require serious attention such as the educational attainment of underrepresented men of color, the troubling socioeconomic gap, and the continued inequities for women in specific fields.  In terms of academic leadership, the publication also raises concerns about a significant pool of women trapped in contingent faculty positions without opportunity for advancement, and the career disparities that face women faculty who are parents.

"A Measure of Equity is a comprehensive compilation of data analyzed by gender and race throughout all of higher education (at the level of students, faculty, and senior leaders)," said Gloria Thomas, associate project director in the Center for Effective Leadership, American Council on Education. "Many of the report's 'hot points' have already been abuzz in the media and throughout the higher education community; the focus on them will certainly help assure continuous attention to these salient issues. This is a solid and informative synthesis and analysis of the status of women, and people of color, in U.S. higher education."

"It gives me deep pleasure to see this project come to fruition and fill a gaping void on data about women's progress toward full equality," said Caryn McTighe Musil, AAC&U's senior vice president and director of the program on the status and education of women. "A Measure of Equity also honors AAC&U's 35-year legacy of national leadership for women's equity in the academy."

Selected Findings from A Measure of Equity:

  • Among all high school graduates ages 18-24 regardless of date of graduation, enrollment rates for women who received a degree or its equivalent have increased across all racial or ethnic groups from 1985-2005.
  • In 2005-06, women earned 45 percent of all doctoral degrees. In an even more stunning benchmark of progress, among U.S. citizens, women have earned a majority of doctorates since 2002.
  • According to the National Science Foundation, women's shares in certain disciplines -such as computer sciences, where they earned 22 percent of baccalaureate degrees in 2005, and mathematics and statistics, where they earned 45 percent in the same year - are now on the decline. Women are also retreating from the sciences at the graduate level. In the physical sciences, for example women earned 43 percent of bachelor's degrees but only 27 percent of doctorates in 2005 - a pattern of reduced participation from undergraduate to doctoral level that holds across almost every major subcategory of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
  • Thirty-eight percent of CAOs are women (35 percent are white women and 3 percent are women of color). Among all senior administrators, white women are 38 percent and women of color are 7 percent. Twenty-three percent of presidents are women, with 19 percent of all female presidents being women of color.

The authors of this publication note that women have made significant progress in higher education over the last several decades. However, progress has not been consistent across all groups of women; economic status at birth determines more than our national mythology likes to admit; and national and institutional policies that address the negative impact of family obligations on career progress are spotty at best. Measuring equity can illuminate both progress and what might be blocking it.

AAC&U is the leading national association concerned with the quality, vitality, and public standing of undergraduate liberal education. Its members are committed to extending the advantages of a liberal education to all students, regardless of academic specialization or intended career. Founded in 1915, AAC&U now comprises more than 1,150 accredited public and private colleges and universities of every type and size.

AAC&U functions as a catalyst and facilitator, forging links among presidents, administrators, and faculty members who are engaged in institutional and curricular planning. Its mission is to reinforce the collective commitment to liberal education at both the national and local levels and to help individual institutions keep the quality of student learning at the core of their work as they evolve to meet new economic and social challenges.