Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

President's Message: Despite progress, more women needed in leadership positions

April 20, 2021

Aaron Thompson

The first woman to receive a bachelor's degree in Kentucky was Belle Clement Gunn of Lexington, who earned a B.S. in 1888 from State College, which later became the University of Kentucky. That may sound like ancient history, but it was actually only 133 years ago, about the span of two lifetimes.

Until the turn of the century, female seminaries and "normal schools" (which trained women for careers in public teaching) were about the only paths available for women who wished to pursue postsecondary education. Just over a century later, female college students now outnumber men on college campuses. In 2020, women comprised 58% of all Kentucky postsecondary enrollment and earned about half of all credentials awarded.

In honor of Women's History Month, I'm dedicating this message to the trailblazers whose courage and perseverance enabled women to take their rightful place in college classrooms alongside men. However, just as the fight for equity continues for people of color, there are still opportunities to level the playing field.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, only 30% of American college presidents are women, a figure bolstered by the higher number of female community college presidents (36%).

Women are underrepresented among the ranks of full professors, deans and provosts.

Nationally, women earn 82 cents on the dollar. A research brief soon to be published by CPE shows that in Kentucky, women with undergraduate degrees earn only 73 cents for every dollar earned by men with commensurate credentials.

The fact that women are underrepresented in upper management is not a pipeline problem any longer. Women are earning degrees in equal or greater numbers, but are not ascending the career ladder at the same rate. I encourage Kentucky educators to use Women's History Month as an opportunity to examine the steps you're taking to mentor young women for leadership positions. Women have risen to impressive heights in the last century, finally breaching the proverbial glass ceiling. Let's not take another 100 years to shatter it.

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Aaron Thompson, Ph.D.

Last Updated: 7/23/2021