A matter of degrees: Women's higher education decision-making processes related to school, relationships, and work
Maldonado, Heather Denise
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This dissertation explores the meaning women ascribe to their higher education and labor market choices during a time of women’s majority participation in U.S. postsecondary schooling and the workforce. The rapidly accelerating U.S. higher education enrollment rates for women requires investigation to determine if females’ increased decisions to pursue college degrees are translating into gender equality in society at large. Drawing upon notions of structure and agency as developed in Giddens’ structuration theory (1984) allows for the investigation of both the structures that constrain an individual’s actions and the acts of agency in which people engage to transform their lives and—potentially—society. In-depth interviews with final-year women from two types of public higher education institutions were collected for this study advance our understanding of gender equality, as viewed through college and career choice, from the standpoint of the women themselves. The accounts from women at an open-admissions community college and a selective liberal arts public college reveal economic and relational elements of women’s decision-making processes that are both constraining and enabling as they make complicated higher education choices that in turn (re)produce the complex U.S. social system. This increased understanding of women’s personalized engagement with collegiate choices illuminates the degree to which women are truly making strides toward gender equity within the U.S. tertiary system and society.