More InformationA critical issue right now in the state of Utah relates to gender and higher education. Many leaders (e.g., Commissioner of Higher Education, USHE College and University presidents, Governor, District Superintendents, religious leaders) and Utah citizens and educators have expressed dismay that Utah is below the national average when it comes to women completing degrees in higher educational settings. This includes 1) a lower number of young women going to college initially after high school and 2) a higher number of college dropouts (i.e., women who start college and do not complete their degrees). This is a cause for concern for many reasons. For example, the rate of divorce has increased within the state and many unqualified women find themselves unprepared to support their families. In fact, the number of single mothers supporting children and living in poverty in Utah follows the national statistics. In addition, all types of organizations will continue to need a diverse, qualified, and educated workforce in future years. Although many speculate regarding the causes and challenges at the heart of this broader phenomenon, Utah stakeholders are unclear when it comes to the deeper complexities of this issue in the lives of the young female citizens within the state. One thing is clear; something must be done. But, leaders are not sure what to do next.
To effectively move forward in any type of change intervention, thorough research must be conducted to understand these complex issues within the lives of young women and within their families, schools, and communities. This is a proposal to do just that. Dr. Susan R. Madsen has been in discussions since November of 2008 with the Commissioner and Associate Commissioner of Higher Education within the state of Utah and also with key administrators at UVU regarding this issue. The Commissioner's office has asked Susan to lead a comprehensive research project (multiple studies) that will explore these issues within the state during the 2009-2011 adademic years. After the research is completed, she wil then co-chair a state-wide taskforce with many stakeholders and constituencies throughout the state to design and develop strategies, programs, and initiatives that will ultimately improve the number of women completing their college degrees in future years.
Plans are being made for the first two stages of this project. Stage I is to conduct a thorough review of existing literature and resources. This will include published literature in journals, reports, and data gathered nationally and through the K-12 and higher education systems in the state of Utah. The project team will also be compiling a database of all existing programs within Utah that are attempting to address this issue. This will include visits with campuses and school districts, phone and face-to-face visits with those working in existing programs (many of which are not getting the results they need), and meetings with educators and administrators with information that may prove helpful. They will also be writing a report for the Commissioner's office, leaders of colleges/universities in the state, and others. Stage II is focused on conducting multiple research studies to help us more deeply understand the underlying issues related to choices of young women to (or not to) further their education. They will be using some innovative software and technology (Interactive Dialogue System) to conduct focus groups with high school students, high school graduates, college students, and college dropouts as well as opinion leaders (parents, high school counselors, teachers, college staff, etc.) throughout the state. From the results of these extensive focus groups, the project team will then conduct an online survey to be widely distributed within the state to the various groups (high school students, college students, parents, teachers, etc.).
These researchers and change agents are determined to lead this study within the state and also become strong proponents for change. Everyone involved is passionate about helping young women become better prepared for their lives (with all the uncertainty life can bring) and to become competent and active mothers, workers, church and community members, business employees and employers, leaders of social change, and more. Contributions to this important and meaningful project can ultimately benefit thousands.
- Secondary research: May 2009 - December 2009
- Primary research (collect data): January 2010 - October 2010
- Analysis of data and writing reports: October 2010 - December 2010
- Designing, developing, and implementing solutions: December 2010+