Today’s column is uniquely personal for me. When my wife, Maureen, and I first met, she had recently returned to the workforce in order to save money to later return to college. Shortly after we married, we made a decision that would forever change our lives. Despite our meager earnings, we determined that we would make every sacrifice possible so that Maureen could return to school and complete her education. She did so, ultimately completing both a bachelor’s and master’s degree.
In evaluating this decision, some might suggest that we made the wrong sacrifices, as we have not necessarily experienced financial return on investment for the tuition we paid.
But a few months after Maureen’s graduation, we unexpectedly became foster parents to a teenager. We felt uniquely under-qualified and unprepared to raise a 14-year-old young man who had experienced a challenging upbringing to that point. A substantial portion of the burden for raising him fell upon Maureen, who worked hard to develop strategies to assist him in his development and education.
Today, that 25-year-old young man, a returned LDS missionary and graduate of the University of Utah, would attribute much of his success to Maureen. Her confidence and capability in contributing to our son’s cognitive, personal, social and emotional development can unequivocally be attributed to her university training. And though not necessarily quantifiable in terms of dollars earned in the workforce, this experience, among many, has proven an extraordinary, and vital, return on our investment.
The findings from the recently released Utah Women and Education Project, conducted at Utah Valley University, reinforce in clear and remarkable terms the value of education for women. The conclusions are in stark contrast to the fact that a highly disproportionate number of Utah’s women are starting but not completing college, and many Utah adults polled believe it is not important for a woman to complete higher education.
UVU’s project, combined with findings from other studies, demonstrates that women who complete college have healthier babies and children; are themselves healthier, more confident and less depressed; and have a higher quality of life. Research empirically demonstrates that most women in Utah at some point will need to support themselves and/or their family and will earn significantly more and have better job opportunities if they have completed college. And if a mother has a college degree, her children, both boys and girls, are significantly more likely to obtain a college degree. The list of personal, economic and societal benefits of college education for women is extensive (for a complete list of benefits, go to www.uvu.edu/wep).
Dr. Susan Madsen, who led the Utah Women and Education Project study, explains that many of the women interviewed referenced the concept of duty in their decision to prematurely end their educational pursuits. Many women interviewed felt their duty compelled them to work or to stay home rather than complete their education — a sacrifice they perceived would benefit their husbands and families.
This, of course, runs counter to the simple fact that the deeper and more beneficial long term sacrifice for themselves, their husbands and their families would most often be to instead complete their degree.
Brigham Young was once asked what he would do if he had to choose between providing education for his sons or for his daughters. He replied that he would educate his daughters because they would become the mothers of his grandchildren.
Utah needs educated women — not simply for better employment purposes but because of the innumerable personal, family and societal benefits. My family has personally experienced in abundant ways the indelible impact of an educated wife and mother.
This post is part of an ongoing series of data-driven commentary on current events. It was originally published in the Deseret News.