At a time when most of Dominique Owens friends are watching Saturday morning cartoons, the 8-year-old can be found on campus learning the finer points of political inquiry and research.
Krista Owens, 26-year-old political science major, said that by having her daughter accompany her to class, the importance of a college education has left an impression on her.
“Sometimes she writes down what the professor is saying,” Owens said.
Owens, who is African- American, said she grew up in a family where the majority of women, including her mother, aunts, and grandmother, graduated from college and went on to successful careers.
She said after getting pregnant during her senior year in high school, she had considered an abortion. Owens said she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to handle the responsibility of raising a child alone and balancing school.
But the idea of not going to college was never an option she said.
What many say is remarkable about a personal story like Owens’ is not that it is unique, but that it is fast becoming the norm. At CSUN and at colleges across the nation, the number of women enrolling in college has surpassed that of their male counterparts, especially among minorities.
According to CSUN’s Institutional Research Office, 19,934 women made up 60 percent of the undergraduate student body, which had 33,343 students enrolled in Fall 2005. Graduate studies had 4,151 women enrolled compared to 2,238 men.
“We’ve seen a lot of women increasingly more self-confident in their academic capabilities,” said Victor Saenz, of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.
As director of follow up surveys, Saenz monitors students’ responses about their goals and expectations regarding college. He said women begin to rank higher than men in areas that measure motivation, preparation and achievement while they are still in high school.
Saenz said these trends continue into higher education where they translate into higher grade point averages and quicker degree attainment for women.
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics reports the number of female high school graduates in 2004 was over 9 million, with 66 percent of them enrolling in college. For males, the number was nearly 8 million with 61 percent of them enrolling in college.
Denny Melara, junior history major, said her parents only have a high school education from El Salvador but they have always stressed how a college degree equates with greater earning potential.
“I do not want to be economically dependent on my parents, some man or my friends,” Melara said. “I want to hold my own weight.”
Melara said she is taking 15 units, works part-time and has no social life, but willingly sacrifices in order to achieve her goal of being a junior high school history teacher. She also said she has noticed a shortage of men in the history department who apply themselves in the same manner and would prefer to date someone she considers an equal.
“In my upper-division classes, the males are nonexistent or they are not the sharpest tools (in the shed),” she said. “If I work and go to school full-time, why can’t he?”
Doris Jones-Nicol, professor of educational psychology and counseling, said in an e-mail that many African- American women and Latinas raised the same concern during a recent cross-cultural counseling class discussion.
She said there is an alarming tendency for the males of those two minority groups to begin to drop out in high school. And with the attrition rate that occurs at any college, the disparity becomes more pronounced as time passes, Jones-Nicole said.
“My niece went to a private black college in Virginia and even the incoming class had about 300 males and over 1,000 females.”
Saenz, of UCLA’s research institute, said a majority of the enrollment growth seen in higher education has been among the women of minority populations, where they outnumber their male counterparts at a ratio of 2-1. He said that in large urban areas there is a volatile mix of crime, gangs and the stigma of being perceived as smart that limit the options of many African-Americans and Latino males.
Jane Prather, a CSUN sociology professor, said while more women are going into college, it is not uncommon for them to choose a field of study that will offer greater control of their working hours and personal time.
She said this is a significant trend considering that Americans work longer hours than any other society and women are often burdened with domestic chores and family care.
Prather said men are doing more housework, but women are still doing twice as much work, while men are more likely to help with childcare than with elderly care.
Even within the same field men might have more opportunities and women are more likely to be in low-status positions, she said.
“I always say men know how to smell where the money is better,” Prather said. “Women are still learning.”
Even with more women completing college degrees and entering the workforce a pattern of imbalance continues.
“There’s still a disparity in pay when they get out of college,” Saenz said. “There’s this weird paradigm where a degree and self-confidence are not translating (in equal pay) quite yet.”
The national average for pay disparity has women earning 71 cents for every dollar a man makes, Rachel Levitt, assistant director of the Women’s Center at CSUN, said.
Expert opinions vary on why women with the same level of education and experience may earn less than men, and often cite gender discrimination and negotiating skills as possible explanations.
“Clearly the data suggests women have no guarantee (of financial security) when they get a college degree, if they don’t have skills to negotiate pay,” said Veda Ward, a professor of leisure studies who lectures about the work/life balance. “It may be women don’t know the value of our work.”
Ward said the pay disparity has negative effects on the quality of life for two income families.
“Men need to know this statistic contributes to everyone’s well-being and satisfaction,” she said. Ward cited efforts by some companies to make the workplace more equitable for everyone.
She said it was common in the past for women to lose career momentum and leadership roles they might have held when they took time off work to raise a family. Changes to workplace family leave provisions and on-site child care centers were how some companies responded to growing concerns, Ward said.
“It depends on the philosophy of the organization,” she said, adding that women are also being more careful in how they choose work.
Still, some women said they have always known where they wanted to work, regardless of workplace conditions.
Autumn Fannin, 18, who will be graduating high school this June and attending CSUN in Fall 2006, said her love of animals and her dream of becoming a veterinarian has kept her focused throughout high school and should continue into college.
“I know there is years and years of rigorous courses,” said Fannin, who attended the open house on campus last Saturday with her mother. “But, animals are here and no one seems to want to take care of them.”
She said managing the course load should not be too difficult because of a well-developed study ethic, which earned her a 3.5 grade point average. She said her mother instilled in her the values and desire to succeed in the corporate world and to never forget those who are less fortunate.
Her mother, Linda Burns, said she had attended college in the past, but she dropped out once more pressing matters arose.
“Do I have regrets? Yes,” Burns said. “I was eager to get things and I didn’t want to wait. And the only way I was going to get them was to work for it.”
Burns said she would have preferred to have made school her first priority and worked only part-time.
Owens, the decision to keep her child and attend college has been rewarding. She said living on campus and receiving financial aid have helped a lot toward achieving her dream of becoming a lawyer.
Her decision to keep her child meant she had to choose a nearby university, rather than Howard University in Washington D.C., where she had been ,accepted upon graduation from Hamilton High School in Los Angeles. She said having an abortion would have made her feel like another statistic.
“I have to be an exception in order to keep going,” Owens said.
After having made it this far on perseverance and faith, Owens said everything else life throws at her should be easy.
Julio Morales can be reached at email@example.com.