The ironic facts: Women flourishing at UW and other colleges

In UW System and on Madison campus, women dominate in degrees, personnel and leadership roles


“Oh, if I could but live another century and see the fruition of all the work for women!” said famed suffragist Susan B. Anthony in the late 19th century. “There is so much yet to be done.”

More than a hundred years after Anthony’s death in 1906, much has been done, and one of the most striking examples of women’s progress has been in higher education. In the University of Wisconsin System and at college campuses across the nation, female students now dominate.

Today’s colleges would be unrecognizable to Anthony: 57.8 percent of all undergraduate degrees and nearly 60 percent of all master’s degrees in the United States in 2018 will be earned by women, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

All told, 420,000 more women than men will walk out of college in the U.S. this year with a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree.

At the turn of the 20th century, only about 5,200 women received undergraduate degrees, or 19.1 percent of all such degrees conferred. By the early 1980s, though, women had become a majority on college campuses, and they haven’t looked back.

Strength at UW

In the UW System, 55 percent of all degrees and 57 percent of master’s degrees were earned by women in 2017, according to the system’s 2016-’17 Fact Book.

On the 13 system campuses, female students outnumber male students on all but two — UW-Platteville and UW-Stout — often by large margins. For instance, women make up an astounding 67 percent of students at UW-Green Bay, 61.6 percent at UW-Superior and 61.4 percent at UW-River Falls.

Women also dominate the staff in the UW System: 53 percent of all system employees are female, as are nearly half of all associate and assistant professors. While men still outnumber women among total faculty and instructional staff, women’s numbers continue to trend upward. Between 2014 and 2016, the percentage of female faculty inched up from 46.1 percent to 46.6 percent, while the share of male faculty dipped from 53.9 percent to 53.4 percent.

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca BlankThe leadership in the UW System has strong female representation as well. The President’s Council is dominated by women, with 18 females on the 30-member panel. Madison’s campus is led by Chancellor Rebecca Blank; Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Sarah C. Mangelsdorf, who is the university’s chief operating officer; and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori Reesor. Three other campuses have female chancellors.

Thus, in an America where the pay gap between genders is a hotly debated political issue that purports to show the disadvantage that women face, another gap exists that rarely merits attention: The surge in women on college campuses as both students and instructors has created an “education gap” that has seen men fall behind.

UW women’s studies program now offers 100 courses