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SALT LAKE CITY — Usually the title "first in the nation" is a positive thing. But more young women in Utah drop out of college than anywhere else in the country.
We're right on track with how many start. Now, several groups are trying to help more girls finish their education.
Earlier this month, Eighth-grader Tori Castillo went on a date of sorts with her grandmother to the University of Utah's annual Defining Your Path Conference. The goal of the gathering is to help young girls plan their futures.
Many of them really don't think they need to graduate from college. They believe they're being encouraged to attend college, but not necessarily graduate.
–Dr. Susan Madsen, UVU professor of management
Carol Morelli Farmer brought her with a purpose. "I was 45 when I went back to college, and got my degree four days before I turned 50," she said. "That is what these young girls need to understand, is that they can be empowered with the knowledge of learning."
Organizers planned the conference so that girls would start planning for college and careers that prepare them for changing workforce.
"I think, specifically, it's very important for women, especially in Utah where we have the stereotype that women quit college," said Alisha Stamper, with the American Association of University Women.
Just in recent years, the gap between male and female graduation rates in Utah has grown to 6 percent — no other state is even close. The second largest gap, New Jersey 2.7 percent, and the national average is 1.3 percent.
It's such a troubling trend a researcher at Utah Valley University started asking why. "Many of them really don't think they need to graduate from college. They believe they're being encouraged to attend college, but not necessarily graduate," said Dr. Susan Madsen, a professor of management.
Madsen wants more girls and their families to appreciate the benefits of higher education, beyond just "getting a job." And that message seems to have connected with at least one aspiring undergrad.
"It was empowering as I heard it and saw all the possibilities," Castillo said.
The state has set up a commission to look into what's behind the gender gap in education, and what steps can be taken to fix it.