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Holmgren discusses the importance of women’s education

Female students attending co-ed colleges will find that their needs are not being met, said President Janet Holmgren to a panel of faculty members addressing women’s education.

The panel spoke to an audience mainly composed of prospective students at the college colloquium, titled “Women’s Education in the 21st Century,” on Monday.

“Women’s education is an important factor in how they succeed,” Holmgren said. “Educational institutions have been as slow to change as societal institutions.”

Despite the changes of the last 30 years, which includes a surge in the number of women attending college, Holmgren pointed out the discrepancy that still exists in the workforce. Women still earn approximately 75 cents for every dollar that a man earns and higher education degrees “are not bringing them the earning power,” she said, which stems from inequities in the educational system.

Co-ed colleges may have added women’s studies departments and women into their curriculum but they have done so reluctantly, she said. Discussion is often focused on how to manage rather than how to educate the influx of female students.

Holmgren suggested this is the reason that roughly one-third of all women in powerful positions – whether in politics, business, or even education – earned their undergraduate degrees from a women’s college. “I believe it a simple matter,” she said, explaining that “in women’s colleges we value women in a way society doesn’t.”

It’s something Holmgren said she wishes co-ed colleges would emulate as she seeks to turn Mills and other women’s colleges into models for all higher educational contexts. The goal is not to tailor a specific curriculum to women, Holmgren said, but rather to develop a curriculum with quality faculty and student interest to push forward women’s roles. “We are more than a part,” she said of Mills’ place in women’s education. “We must take responsibility.”

In panel response, Dr. Mary-Ann Milford, Mills Provost and Dean of Faculty as well as an Art History professor, explores the issue of women in graduate level education. The problem, she said, is that many women lack the necessary support and structure that would help them figure out what to do next. It is for this reason that she’s excited over the graduate programs Mills offers, especially the new business program. Milford said it will open doors and give more women the opportunity to venture into the professional world.

Dr. John Brabson, head of the Chemistry department, told the panel that the entrepreneurial spirit needs to be imbued in both men and women. In general, he said, he sees the “cup half full – more than half full.” He quoted the 2004 medical school statistics that list an almost equal number of female and male graduates.

The last panel member was Dr. Ruth Cossey, an assistant Education professor, who said that “when students believe they have a right to understand, it affects the instruction.” As a teacher, especially one working in education, Cossey said she strives to instill this confidence in her students.

The challenge of the educational field, according to Cossey, is to take a scholarly look at institutional barriers to best determine an approach for breaking them down.

All four said that women’s education in the 21st century is building upon a long tradition, not ignoring it. Women have been leading for centuries in unlikely places and the “best women authors are named anonymous,” Holmgren said.

Brabson said that it’s not only the building of a long tradition but the beginning of one as well.