RICHMOND, Va. – Not only are women more likely than men to attend college in Virginia, but they’re also more likely to graduate.
At Radford University, for example, 65 percent of the female students graduate within six years with a bachelor’s degree, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education. For male students, the graduation rate is just 52 percent.
At the University of Mary Washington, another state-supported school, the disparity is slightly bigger: The graduation rate is 75 percent for women and 61 percent for men.
At two private schools in Virginia, there is a 22-percentage-point difference between male and female graduation rates. At Emory & Henry College, the rate for women is 67 percent, versus 45 percent for men; and at Shenandoah University, the female graduation rate is 65 percent, while the male rate is 43 percent.
At almost all of the public and private nonprofit institutions of higher education in Virginia, women are more likely than men to graduate.
The gap between female and male graduation rates is 12 percentage points at George Mason University, 10 points at Old Dominion University, 7 points at Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University, and 6 points at James Madison University. There’s even a disparity at the College of William and Mary (4 percentage points), the University of Richmond (3 points) and the University of Virginia (3 points).
There are only a handful of exceptions: At Washington and Lee University, men and women have the same graduation rate – 91 percent. At Bridgewater College, men are slightly more likely to graduate (54 percent) than women (53 percent). And at Virginia Military Institute, the male graduation rate is 75 percent while the female rate is 71 percent.
Dr. Linda E. Zyzniewski, undergraduate programs director in the Department of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, said higher education is changing.
“Historically, women didn’t go to college many generations ago, so now we’re seeing a big shift in it,” said Zyzniewski, an associate professor of social psychology. “Women are able to support themselves now in ways that 40 years ago they couldn’t. You couldn’t have a credit card in your own name as a woman 40 or 45 years ago.
“Within a reasonable number of generations, we’re seeing people have opportunities that perhaps in the past you had to be married to have. Now, women can support themselves and be independent, and so then there’s a need to grow and develop differently than men might.”
The changes are reflected in the gender composition of the student body as well. Of the approximately 290,000 undergraduates at all four-year colleges and universities in Virginia, 56 percent are women. Women outnumber men 2-1 at Longwood University, Hampton University and the University of Mary Washington. Of VCU’s 24,000 undergraduates in 2015, 57 percent were female and 43 percent male.
Universities across the country are seeing women graduate at rates higher than men. For instance, VCU has 25 peer institutions – a list designated by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. These institutions span the country and include New York University, Temple University, Boston University and the University of Miami. At 23 of VCU’s 25 peer institutions, women are more likely than men to graduate.
Zyzniewski said the opioid addiction crisis in the United States also could be affecting graduation rates and success in school.
“The addiction crisis we have right now in our society, of all substances but particularly opiates, there are gender differences in that kind of drug use,” Zyzniewski said. “So if you’re in an area where there’s a lot of that, you might not be able to be successful in school.”
By Ashley Luck and Jessica Nolte with Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.