University of Iowa sophomore Marleen Linares never had a doubt about attending college.
Her single mother had a family young and never went to college, and the San Antonio native knew she would choose a path that included a degree.
Linares, 19, said her mother was supportive. She also was influenced by her high school, where teachers put a high priority on higher education for everyone.
“The question wasn’t, ‘Are you going to college?’ it was, ‘Where are you going to college?’ ” the international relations and journalism major said. “I wanted something a little bit more from my life.”
Women account for a disproportionate share of higher education enrollments at every degree level and likely will become an even more dominant presence on college campuses in the next 10 years, the Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported.
An annual study by the U.S. Department of Education predicts women will account for 59 percent of undergraduate enrollment and 61 percent of post-bachelor’s degree enrollment by 2019.
Higher education leaders say a number of factors, such as high school graduation rate gaps and a pay disparity between working men and women that spur women to earn more education, help drive this trend. U.S. Census data show slightly more women than men in the population — 50.7 percent v. 49.3 percent in the 2006-08 American Community Survey.
Admissions officials at several Iowa colleges and universities said they watch enrollment trends by gender, but don’t consider them troubling.
The national trend isn’t mirrored on some Iowa campuses, either. Enrollment balances differ because of the academic offerings and the traditional strengths of each school, officials said.
ISU, for example, is the only one of Iowa’s three regent universities to have more male students, with men making up about 56 percent of the total student body last year.
“Our numbers look a little bit different because of the programs we offer,” said Marc Harding, admissions director at Iowa State University. “We have a suite of majors that still are dominated by men nationally.”
The gender balance differs from college to college, though, Harding said. ISU’s College of Human Sciences is about 80 percent female, he said, while liberal arts and sciences is 60 percent female.
Other college officials said they similarly see gender balance influenced by the traditional draw of certain programs. UNI, with a historically strong education college, last year had total enrollment that was 58 percent female.
Total enrollment at the UI has ranged from 52 percent to 54 percent female in the past decade. This fall’s first-year class will be about 56 percent women, not out of line with the past several decades, admissions director Mike Barron said.
“I don’t know that I’ve got a lot of answers about why that is,” he said. “It seems to be the nature of student interest in our institution and our programs.”
Smaller private colleges do tend to enroll more female students. Coe College’s student body was 55 percent female last year. Cornell College in Mount Vernon has ranged from 50 percent to 53 percent female enrollment in recent years.
“We have a very nice balance here. I know nationally, it’s not uncommon for small liberal arts colleges to be 58 or 60 or 62 percent female,” said Jonathan Stroud, Cornell’s vice president for enrollment. “Female students just seem to be a little more attracted to the smaller colleges.”
Mount Mercy, which decades ago made the switch from a female-only school and still has strong programs in nursing, is about 70 percent female. The private Cedar Rapids college has added degrees, such as criminal justice and graduate programs, that are in demand in the community, Dean of Admissions Scott Baumler said.
Some specific programs do have goals to recruit more men or more women, college officials said. ISU and UI engineering programs, for example, aim to enroll more women, while nursing at Iowa and human sciences at ISU want to recruit more men, officials said.