Barriers for Women returning to Further Education

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In the last few decades, the schools have seen a staggering number of older women returning for further education or FE (Thomas 2001). This influx has forced the educational institutions to re-examine their aims and programs. There is a greater growth in enrolment in women than in men. Women returning for FE usually return after leaving the education at a certain age to indulge in certain responsibilities at home (Thomas 2001).

One of the most challenging barriers for the women returning for further education is finding the balance between school and family, and women are often seen expressing conflict between the two (Thomas 2001). The other barriers include cultural, attitudinal, qualificatory, situational and institutional barriers (Evans 1995). Situational barriers include family restrictions and lack of proper support - economic or otherwise. The women who work are paid less than men in wages (Evans 1995).

Pascal and Cox (1993) stated how the women were certain that their employment opportunities were going to increase by education. Education was also seen as an instrument to obtain independence from traditional family structures (Pascal and Cox, 1993). Most of the women eye education as an opportunity, while not all can put it to use in their existing careers. Those who do are successful in furthering their present careers, and some women advanced to management or professional careers (Pascal and Cox, 1993).

Mau (1990) has highlighted the problems faced by women from different ethnic groups due to many lateral reasons. Asia/Pacific Americans are socialized into traditional roles and these women do not usually think about higher education making it difficult for the other women to participate in further education. Redding and Dowling (1992) have indicated that women re-enter for further education in order to attain a degree. Women who play different roles simultaneously have specific needs that are not met by the traditional university rituals and practices of the families (Redding and Dowling, 1992).

Wild (2003) suggested that there were organizational barriers for women to get promotions in FE. This can be seen as a cause for apathetic condition of the various universities towards the re-entering women. If women could constitute a commendable part of the senior members, conditions for women wanting to re-enter to complete their education would be more cordial and friendly.

This study recognizes the various barriers that are faced by the re-entering college women. There are different barriers that have been identified, such as financial problems, family responsibilities and restrictions, inadequate support systems, and discrimination at the institutions. These barriers often lead the women to get discouraged and often leave midway. The teachers have to become a part of the process of mainstreaming these re-entering students. There is a need to enhance the persistence of the re-entry women and strategise the schooling for these women to assist them in their goal of education and self -independence.

Theoretical Framework

There has been a substantial increase in the enrolment of female students in schools and colleges. This increase in the rate of female students may be attributed to the influx of the older women re-entering for education (Thomas 2001). Re-entry of women as a concept became popular in the 1970s, and refers to the phenomenon of women, who had not completed their higher education at an orthodox age, returning to the schools for formal education (Thomas 2001). The women have to opt-out of education for various reasons including family responsibilities, poverty, etc. So, the re-entry women have to manage the other responsibilities such as employment, commitments of family, and other compulsory obligations.

"Women have constraints of time, space, resources and socio-economic disabilities" (Evans 1995). Evans (1995) has pointed out some common barriers that the women face in participation in education, like: Cultural, Attitudinal, Qualificatory, Situational, and Institutional. Tittle and Denker (1977) had pointed out the barriers as family restrictions, financial problems, attitudinal characteristics and college restrictions. Holiday (1985) also stated Institutional and Situational barriers as the main barriers for re entering women. The cultural and attitudinal barriers are social phenomena that discriminate the role and status of women in the society. These barriers can be seen all over the world, despite totally different circumstances prevailing there (Evans 1995). Attitudinal differences can be attributed to the lack of female role models.

While the attitudinal and cultural barriers may be understood as societal elements of discrimination, the situational, qualificatory and institutional barriers make it difficult for the institutions as well as the re-entering women to receive quality education. The situational barriers such as family commitment, lack of support form the partner, financial problems, and distance from the educational institutions come in between the women and education and at the same time make it difficult for the teachers and the organizations to educate these women. It's been found that male partners are not supportive for women to enter the traditionally male dominated sphere (Evans 1995). The attitudes towards the role of women in the families and economic discrepancies are some of the main reasons that discourage women from re-entering (Holiday 1985).

The institutional barriers that exclude women are sex, age, financial aid, policies related to admission, stringent curriculum planning and attitudes of the staff and faculty (Holiday 1985). Evans (1995) has pointed out the main elements of institutional barriers as: fixed hours of teaching, attendance requirements, a fixed schedule of curriculum that makes it difficult to catch up with the missed sessions, and lack of facilities related to child care. Moreover, attitudes of staff and faculty are also barriers to easy education for re-entering women. Discrimination in the admission process, although prohibited by laws in almost every country, exempt the private, religious and military academic institutions (Holiday 1985). "In addition, the differing data on ability levels of male and female students enrolled suggest that some forms of age and sex discrimination still exist, particularly related to re-entry women" (Holiday 1985).

The lifestyle of the most women makes it difficult for them to handle education with all the other responsibilities. This results in discrimination against the women students who want to enroll part-time as most of the institutions prefer full-time students (Holiday 1985). With the increase in the number of educational institutions worldwide, the need for the students has increased drastically, but, it has been observed that these institutions would rather still prefer full-time students over part-timers. The institutional regulations concerning the full-time courses are such that the women from a low-income group or women with children cannot meet the necessary requirements (Holiday 1985). Evans (1995) also recognizes the male dominance in certain subjects as a barrier for re-entering women. Inflexible selection and stringent entry requirements also make it difficult for re-entering women to get in the institutions for the purpose of study (Evans 1995).

The financial aid available for re-entry women is not sufficient to meet their needs and most of the aid is usually unavailable to them, as it is restricted to full time students only (Holiday 1985). Moreover, information related to the financial aid is not that easily available to the re-entry women, who thereby cannot get to re-enter because of the financial issues even though there are provisions for financial assistance (Holiday 1985). Tittle and Denker (1977) pointed out the importance of examining the scheduling and cycling of classes for part-time students in order to encourage education for re-entering women.

Holiday (1985), Tittle and Denker (1977) and Evans (1995) emphasized the importance of child care facilities for the benefit of the re-entering women. The lack of child care facilities in the educational institutions is one of the most critical problems for the re-entering women (Evans 1995; Tittle and Denker, 1977). Most re-entering women argue that their educational pursuits are hampered by the need for childcare (Holiday 1985). Apart from these obvious issues, the attitudes of faculty and staff towards the re-entering women have also been known to hinder the uninterrupted influx of these students (Holiday 1985; Thomas 2001). Thomas (2001) identified institutional barrier as one of the most potent barrier for re-entering women. The main barrier that the re-entering women face may be related to course scheduling, location of the institution and "a variety of other procedural and relevance problems" (Thomas 2001).

The institutional and situational barriers also make it difficult for the teachers to motivate and educate the re-entering women. The male oriented language and male images in teaching material make it difficult for the re-entering women to relate to the curriculum (Evans 1995). The domestication of women's labor and career aspirations is one of the reasons for the lack of motivation in the women (Evans 1995), and it can be very difficult for the teachers to keep these women motivated to study and pursue a career.

The discrimination against re-entering women has been seen in different communities around the world, although not much research has been put into the barriers for women returning for FE in the developing countries. The studies pertaining African American Female Students (Thomas 2001), women in South Africa (Kok and Van der Westhuizen, 2003), Asian/Pacific American Female (Mau 1990) and Women in South Asia (Khan et al., 1986), all point towards barriers in education for re-entering women.

One of the barriers has been recognised as self-concept characteristics (Tittle and Denker, 1977). This has been related to the career choice women make, especially the re-entry women. Female students choose arts, social sciences and human studies, rather than technical subjects, which can be perceived as a structural stereotype that is propagated by women themselves (Evans 1995).

Due to the barriers in education for re-entry women faced by women and teachers alike, the women should also take interest and responsibility for their own education by managing their time effectively and participating actively in the educational process (Thomas 2001). Returning to the school for education may be difficult compromise for the women, but the women should be motivated and committed to attaint educational degrees (Thomas 2001). The women need to believe in social support systems and utilise them actively and effectively in the pursuit of education.

Certain women re-entering the educational institutions for further education believe that it can increase their employment opportunities (Pascal and Cox, 1993). Only a small group of women use their degrees to further the existing careers, while some women find it difficult to find education useful to further their careers (Pascal and Cox, 1993). However, there are instances of women moving to other careers and advancing to higher professional careers (Pascal and Cox, 1993). Thomas (2001) has mentioned that re-entering women get excited about re-entry to colleges and further education. There is an immediate increase in self-confidence in re-entering women (Killy and Borgen, 2010), but there are complains of role overload and conflicts (Thomas 2001).

One of the reasons for the administrative shortcomings of institutions in addressing the problems of the re-entering women seems to be the lack of senior women leaders in higher education and lack of female role models. Moreover, the lack of women in the administrative positions also advocates the discrimination and sex-role stereotyping prevalent in the society and institutions. There have been studies in line with barriers that the women face in re-entering educational professions (Kok and C. Van der Westhuizen, 2003) and the problems they face in getting promoted (Wild 1994).

Many themes emerge from the study of barriers for re-entering women. Killy and Borgen (2010) identified seven themes regarding the experience of re-entering women in North America. Transition to adulthood and self-confidence crisis were the two main themes, followed by discrimination, diverse career patterns, sex-role stereotyping, the search for meaning, and multiple roles (Killy and Borgen, 2010). However, the majority of the studies (Evans 1995; Tittle and Denker, 1977, Mau 1990, Thomas 2001) have pointed out towards three main themes in Institutional barriers, Situational barriers, and Cultural barriers.