Young Caymanian women appear to be attending overseas colleges and universities at more than twice the rate of their male counterparts.
For years, more female students have received government scholarships at greater numbers than male students. Ministry of Education figures going back decades show that since 1975, female students receiving overseas scholarships have outnumbered males.
But in the past seven years for which figures are available, as the number of students attending college has increased overall, the gap between men and women has widened by more than one-third – a significant 36-percent jump.
Deirdre Carmola manages the scholarship program for the Ministry of Education. She said no one she knows has analyzed the trend.
“It could relate to a lot of things,” she said of the factors behind the increasing gap.
More than two-thirds of overseas scholarship recipients in 2016 were women.
In 2010, 322 students received overseas scholarships, with 205 going to women and 117 to men. By 2016, those numbers had increased to 321 women and 146 men for a total of 467 students, a 45 percent overall increase.*
Women’s numbers jumped by 57 percent during the seven-year period, while male students saw just a 25 percent increase.*
While the scholarship numbers are not an exact reflection of all Cayman students – non-Caymanian students are not eligible, and not all Caymanians have high enough grade point averages or college entrance exam scores to qualify for the grants – the gender gap does reflect a trend also seen in other parts of the world. In the United States, 56 percent of college students enrolled in fall 2017 were women, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center looked at reasons behind the broadening gap.
“Some have pointed to economic factors,” the study said. “As labor market barriers to women have been lowered, the benefits of a college education grew more for women than men. Others say the higher incidence of behavioral and school disciplinary problems among boys may be a factor.”
The ministry’s data also show some interesting trends in what subjects students are pursuing, with big increases in the areas of professional and education degree programs, and a substantial drop off in those studying the humanities.
Ms. Carmola said she knew of no one who studies such trends. She did say she has seen an increase in applications for scholarships to pay for graduate-level studies, but she did not have any statistics to quantify any changes.
For years, the dominant subject areas Cayman students pursued were engineering, technology and science, along with education. That began to change in the 1990s, when social and business studies and professional programs began to rise in popularity.
Since 2010, enrollment in humanities degrees has declined by 40 percent, making it the least popular of the six categories the ministry breaks out in its data. Social and business studies grew by 49 percent during that period and is the most popular area of study. Professional and education programs saw the largest amount of growth at 133 percent and 128 percent, respectively, during the seven years.
*Percentage figures corrected from an earlier version of this article.