Where the Women Are Not: Alone in Higher Education.

For most of my educational life, I didn’t give much thought to how my experience might differ from that of the males in my class. In high school, my honors and AP classes all had a lot of girls. Outside of that group, it sometimes felt like boys were intimidated by smart girls. That was their problem and not mine.

There are more women going to college and graduating from college every year at all levels from undergraduate to doctoral programs. Women are certainly taking every opportunity to become better educated and more successful. Yet, that was not my experience. I imagine that the world I face was more similar to the university life around 1900 than the typical female university experience in the year 2000. I was definitely in the minority, and everyone was not happy to have me in the classroom.

Physical science majors (physics, chemistry, geology, and astronomy) are about 25% female. None of those women were in my physics classes. I literally never saw another girl in an upper-level physics class. In the year that I graduated, my class was three boys and me. I was the 25%. Yet, no other girls had graduated from the geophysics program before me, and none graduated after me. So, the 25% can be deceiving. In fact, I was alone. My experience was that scientists are pretty open-minded. Everyone thought it was cool that I liked what they liked, and nobody ever made it seem like I shouldn’t be there. Sure, it got a little weird when all the physics Ph.D. students thought I should be their girlfriend because I liked physics and was nice to them. Other than that, I never had a problem.

I didn’t run into many women in my classes or as my professors, but that didn’t bother me. I was friends with the guys in my major, and the lack of women never made me feel like I didn’t belong there. I had one female professor in my major classes. She didn’t champion me with a “girl power” talk or really encourage me in any way. She was just there doing her own thing, and I’m not even sure that she liked me all that much. So, there was no female mentoring. I came to depend on getting support and advice from men, including a great advisor.

In the end, I switched fields and switched careers in graduate school. It had to do with the career path I was on and my realization my senior year that I would not emotionally survive a doctoral program in geophysics. I ended up in a doctoral finance program. Women in 2014 made up 42.3% of business doctoral graduates. Those women, however, are mostly in fields such as management and marketing. They are not in finance. Women were 27.7% of the doctoral degrees awarded in finance in 2014. Once again, I find myself in the 25%. I was the only female admitted in the year I started, but since people hang around for several years, I did get to know other women getting doctoral finance degrees. The university usually graduated one woman per year with a finance Ph.D., which meant there were about 4 of us there at any point in time. Half of them were Chinese students. If you want to be a minority in your field, be a white woman in finance. Even worse? Be a black woman in finance. They are almost non-existent.

Business Doctorate Recipients, 2014

I didn’t have a single female professor in graduate school. Maybe that was part of the reason some of the male professors were less than welcoming of women in their classes. This was the first time in my life when I ever experienced harassment and a clear message that the male professors didn’t want me there. There were two in particular who targeted me for their attacks. Luckily, I had a great advisor and enough of an attitude to be unbothered even then. I survived and thrived, which I am sure bothers them to this day. I didn’t have a female role model or mentor in my career because they just didn’t exist. Instead, my mentors and colleagues have been men who respect me and look out for me. Sure, there are times when it would have been helpful to have another woman in my corner. Finding people who you trust, however, should always come before anything else.

 

 

 

College Prep: Preparing Your Children for Their Financial Future

preparing students for college finances

 

 

Dear Dad and Moms,

 

College students really do not know what they are doing when it comes to their money. They worry about student loans and debt but don’t have a clue about what they might earn when they graduate, credit reports, or how to manage their money during the semester (let alone after college graduation). Some of them are going to take a college finance class and learn something, but others will not. It’s so easy to dig yourself into a financial pit these days, and it is very hard to get out of that place when the job market is brutally tight.

 

I’m not sure why parents as a whole are failing at this point, but I do have some ideas. Maybe parents just have not thought about the need to pass on personal finance skills. I think this is entirely possible because I can tell you that if anyone sat down and talked to me about managing my money or anything related to personal finance that I don’t remember. In college, I had money I earned during the summer and saved, but I never thought about a budget. I never sat down and calculated my income and expected expenses after graduation. Life skills that were important: making mac and cheese, doing laundry, putting transmission fluid in my car so it would run. Life skills that were not important: budgeting. So, maybe you aren’t thinking about it because you had a similar experience where you figured out the whole money thing as you went. College students are no different today. Studies show that they don’t know just how much they don’t know.

 

Unless you are living under a rock, you probably know that today personal finance is more important than ever. High school and college graduates are heading out into a tough economy where they will be burdened with high health care costs, taxes, and debt. While employees could once depend upon the government and an employee pension to cover retirement expenses, individuals are now expected to adequately save and invest themselves. Many states have begun to require high school courses in personal finance, but parents should not rely on these classes to fully prepare their children for the financial freedoms of college.

 

Maybe we are just uncomfortable talking about money since it can be such a stressful topic in our own lives. Perhaps some parents don’t feel like they understand personal finance enough themselves to be able to give advice to their children. Students going off to college, however, really need basic skills that they are going to use every day. They don’t need to know how to pick investments and the different type of retirement accounts. Start out by making sure they can do simple things like write a check and make a budget for the semester. Empowering your children to take responsibility for their own financial future sets the stage for good choices beyond graduation as well.

 

 

 

Financial Literacy in College Students: Re-visited

college high school financial literacy education

Last year I wrote about a project my honors thesis student completed on the topic of financial literacy in business students. The hypothesis for the thesis was that business majors are more financially literate than non-business majors. On the surface, it seemed like it should be a simple answer. Business students are trained in the ways of accounting, finance, marketing, and management. Financial literacy should be a result of their education. Over 400 university students responded to a survey that included sixteen financial literacy questions from the JumpStart Coalition’s test. On average, students answered half of the questions correctly. Business students, however, did not do any better than the non-business students. As a finance professor, this was not a pleasant discovery. It turned out that only age and measures of financial experience resulted in higher financial literacy scores.

 

This year I had another student working on an honors thesis related to financial literacy. She, however, wanted to focus on high school education. Some states either require a high school course in personal finance or at least are exploring the idea. Given the poor results from last year’s study, we decided to take a different approach to measuring financial literacy. Financial education is not required in Mississippi high schools, but those that offer courses predominantly utilize the Ever-Fi financial education curriculum. So, we designed our financial literacy metrics from this curriculum. The Ever-Fi curriculum focuses on basic, personal finance applications that young adults are most likely to encounter within five years of high school graduation.

 

The good news is that according to these metrics, college students have a higher level of financial literacy than expected. Over 90% of students were able to answer most of the questions correctly. At least half of students were getting the correct answers to the most challenging questions. So, perhaps college business majors are more financially literate than the previous study indicated and the measure of financial literacy should be carefully considered.

 

Financial experience and finance education both resulted in higher financial literacy. Educating high school and college students about personal finance is extremely important to the economic health of our country. Curriculum, however, should focus on what students are most likely to encounter after graduation and incorporate applied learning opportunities.