Colorado ahead of national curve on women seeking degrees, certificates

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Published Monday, January 16, 2023
by Eric Galatas

(Colorado News Connection) Nationally, female students have been opting out of college at more than twice the rate of males since 2020, according to a new National Student Clearinghouse Research Center report - and many do not return to complete a certificate or degree. 

Angie Paccione, Ph.D, is the executive director of Colorado's Department of Higher Education - which works to expand post-secondary education opportunities for Colorado students. She said the state is breaking that national trend.

"Our most recent data from 2021 shows that we were at about 54 percent enrollment of women," said Paccione, "which was higher than our pre-pandemic enrollment, higher than almost any year in the last decade."

She said Colorado has made real progress addressing some of the barriers to student success. 

Many colleges help connect students with affordable housing, offer food banks for students experiencing food insecurity, and can tap emergency funds if a simple car repair is keeping a student from attending class. 

There are also zero-cost education pathways to careers in sectors with high worker demand - including health care, where students can actually earn a paycheck as they pursue a certificate or degree.

Paccione said she suspects that many women in Colorado and across the U.S. who put their education on hold had few options when the pandemic hit.

"Women were primarily responsible for some of the child-care responsibilities," said Paccione, "or maybe caring for elderly parents, so they chose to stay home."

Women who do stop out are at much greater risk of lower lifetime earnings than men who can stay in school, according to the report, which could exacerbate an already wide gender wage gap. 

Paccione said increasingly, joining Colorado's workforce requires some form of post-secondary education - especially for jobs with high pay and good benefits.

"A minimum of 75% of all jobs in Colorado require some credential beyond high school," said Paccione. "Ninety-four percent of the top jobs require a credential beyond high school."

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.

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