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Women make up majority in the classroom

Census: More females are in college

Sharon Tebben can remember a time when few women were on college campuses.

She was one of only a handful women chemistry majors in a class of mostly men in the late '60s at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

"I very much felt unusual in those classes," said Tebben, now dean of Northern State University's School of Education.

Today, women are making up greater and greater percentages of students at colleges and universities around the country.

According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, more young women are completing high school and college, compared to their male counterparts. The figures are part of a Current Population Survey, an annual survey taken each spring, and not part of Census 2000. Overall, women make up about 51 percent of the population, or 140 million.

The Census Bureau estimates that 89 percent of young women - ages 25 to 29 - have completed high school. It says about 87 percent of men that age have a high school diploma.

At the college level, 30 percent of young women have degrees, while 28 percent of young men do.

Since 1979, women have represented the majority of college students. Nationwide, about 56 percent of those enrolled in college are women. At Presentation College, 79 percent are women. About 63 percent of Northern State University students are women.

Erika Tallman, who began teaching at Northern State University part-time in 1982, has seen the number of women on that campus grow. She's now a professor of biology, executive assistant to the university president, directs the office of instructional services and was recently named interim director of statewide e-learning. She, too, notes an increase in the number of women colleagues.

Tebben, who taught chemistry at Presentation College for many years and has been at Northern State University for nine, said most students she's seen on campus during that time are women. When she was a student at Iowa, men in her classes studied together, leaving her on her own. Having taught more women than men, she observed that women were more open to including men.

"Women tend to be much more collaborative and interested in working together. There doesn't seem to be any animosity between the genders."

Nationally, women were awarded 57 percent of master's degrees, 44 percent of law degrees and 41 percent of medical degrees in 1997, the most recent year cited by the Census Bureau officials. But despite narrowing the education gap, women are still making less than men.

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The average income of a woman working full-time, year-round was $26,300, only 72 percent of the median income for a man - $36,500.

"In some cases, it could be discrimination," Tallman said, adding other factors could be involved in the wage gap. Those include a tendency on the part of women to be less aggressive in salary negotiations and being primary caregivers for children. The latter limits the ability to move around for competitive salaries and gives a disadvantage in years of service.

But Tallman also said the increasing numbers of young, educated women may be a sign of things to come. Generally, societies with high percentages of educated women have lower infant mortality rates and smaller families.

"Education is a powerful thing. It allows you to have the kind of life you want to have."

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