State, local data: More girls than boys head to college

Female students who graduate from area high schools are more likely to pursue postsecondary education than their male peers.

Both state and local data for Iowa and Wisconsin high schools show that a greater percentage of girls from recent graduating classes enrolled in postsecondary education than boys did.

Local school officials said there could be different reasons for that disparity, including the job market for careers typically dominated by either gender. However, they said their goal is to introduce students to a variety of post-high-school options so they can pursue their interests, whatever form that takes.

“We want to make all boys, all girls, all races, ethnicities, all backgrounds aware of the opportunities that exist, not to push them into one specifically but to say, ‘Hey, maybe you could try this out,’” said David Moeller, Dubuque Community Schools’ educational support leader in career and technical education,

In Iowa, 71.3% of girls in the Class of 2019 enrolled in postsecondary education within one year of graduating, compared with 57.3% of male graduates, according to the state’s Postsecondary Readiness Reports.

Wisconsin reported that among the Class of 2020, a higher percentage of girls than boys enrolled in a postsecondary institution by the first fall after finishing high school.

Similar data for Illinois could not be obtained.

The statewide trends played out locally, as well.

At local Iowa high schools, the rate at which girls who graduated in 2017 to 2019 enrolled in postsecondary education within one year of graduating exceeded that of their male peers. At a majority of local Wisconsin schools, a higher percentage of girls than boys in the Class of 2020 had enrolled in postsecondary education by the first fall after graduation.

Those trends were present in Dubuque Community Schools, where an average of 68.2% of girls in the Classes of 2017 to 2019 enrolled in postsecondary education within one year of graduation, compared to 59.2% of boys.

Diane Frambach, a school counselor at Hempstead High School, said the reasons for those differences are complex. A possible reason is a good market for jobs that students can enter right after high school in traditionally male-dominated fields, such as welding or machining.

“We certainly are talking to young women about those opportunities but, again, male-dominated fields,” she said.

Frambach said she wouldn’t characterize the gap in percentages as a problem. Rather, the key is educators give students opportunities and access to explore different options.

“We want them to know all the options, and if we have more females go one direction and more males go the others, I don’t know that that’s a bad thing, as long as both sexes are being given the information in equitable ways,” she said.

Moeller said educators’ goals are to provide all students with career and academic planning so they know their options and to break down barriers that might prevent them from pursuing a particular field.

Educators pay attention to demographic data to inform their work, he said, but they also don’t try to push students into careers they don’t want. Their job is to nurture the interests that students have.

In some local, rural districts, the gap between girls and boys enrolling in college after high school was particularly wide.

In Maquoketa Valley Community School District, for example, 89.4% of female graduates in the Classes of 2017 to 2019 started postsecondary education within a year. For boys, the rate was 49.3%.

Superintendent Dave Hoeger said he only could speculate on why that might be the case but likewise noted that there are many careers that don’t require postsecondary education in male-dominated fields. Some jobs in female-dominated fields that don’t require education after high school also might not pay as much, he said.

Hoeger said the disparity provides an opportunity to make sure educators aren’t unintentionally contributing to the gap and that male students have what they need to make post-high-school decisions. A good decision might not necessarily mean going to college, but Hoeger wants students to make those choices for the right reasons.

“I just want to make sure both males and females have all the information they need to make good decisions for themselves,” he said.

While female postsecondary enrollment rates outpaced those of males at most local high schools, the reverse was true in a handful of local districts.

That includes the Mineral Point (Wis.) Unified School District, where 85% of boys in the Class of 2020 enrolled in postsecondary education by the fall after graduation, compared to 80.8% of girls.

High school Principal Matt Austin said the rates seemed to depend on the particular class, the number of boys and girls in it and the paths they decide to take after high school. He said educators seek to help students down whatever postsecondary path they choose.