To address that trend, Susan Madsen, a Utah Valley University business professor, has launched a yearlong study to determine why women in the Beehive State seem less interested in higher education than their national peers.
"We think we're encouraging young women in Utah to be educated," Madsen said. "But there are a lot of young women — and young men, for that matter — who choose not to go to college."
Madsen is leading a group of women educators and researchers in the Women in Education Project, a study commissioned by the Utah System of Higher Education, to examine why fewer women in the state tend to pursue higher education than their peers in other states. The researchers will compare data, conduct interviews among college dropouts and high-school guidance counselors and combine the findings into a series of reports over the next 12 months, with the goal of providing policymakers and community leaders with a better understanding of why Utah women aren't heading to college.
Nationwide, 57 percent of college students are women. Across Utah's public higher-education system, that number is about 49 percent, according to the latest 2009 fall enrollment numbers.
Utah Commissioner of Higher Education William Sederburg said there is a national push to help more people earn baccalaureate degrees. Over the years, Utah has lost ground in comparison with the national average of college-educated people, falling below average in recent years, according to a recent report by the Utah Foundation.