UTAH COUNTY -- The percentage of women in Utah attending and graduating college has traditionally been high.
Dr. Susan Madsen, an associate professor of management at Utah Valley University says, "When you look back even to the 1940s and ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s, when you compare the percentage of females in Utah compared to the [national] population, we were actually above the national average."
It wasn't until recently that our history changed.
"In about 1993 we started slipping down," Madsen says.
She says Utah tied the national average in 2001 and has since slipped below. According to her data, Utah has a smaller percentage of women who are graduating with degrees in business, science and math.
Madsen is leading the Utah Women and Education Project to find out why the state is trending downward in these areas. Project workers are interviewing 250 women to determine their views on higher education. These interviews can last between one and two hours, so researchers can ask truly personal questions.
"What are the influences in their lives? What are they hearing from their parents and people around them? What are their values related to higher education and their aspirations for the future?" Madsen explains.
She says they can't say for sure why fewer women in the state are graduating college, but they have some theories. In some of their interviews, they're hearing some women say higher education is tied to getting a job.
"If you see the value of higher education only linked to a job then you can understand why some choose not to do it if their choice is to stay home with children," she says.
Plus, Madsen suspects some women believe they have to completely give up their education when they have children.
Madsen says they hope to be done with collecting their data by the end of June, and they hope to be able to release some of their findings in September.