It is perhaps interesting to note that the oldest corporation in America is not a commercial business but Harvard College (Thelin, 2011). There are nine surviving colleges that were founded before 1781 and their heritage and prestige stem from their longevity (Thelin, 2011). These institutions include Harvard, William and Mary, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Brown, Dartmouth, Rutgers, and Pennsylvania (Thelin, 2011). It is thought that one reason for the success of these institutions has to do with the attempt to transplant the Oxford-Cambridge ideal from Europe to the colonies; this seems to be a theory held even by the colleges themselves (Thelin, 2011). This ideal involves a merging of education, society, religion, and play to achieve an overall ‘lifestyle’ thought to be beneficial to developing young men (Thelin, 2011).
While it is true that the first colleges were intended to be based on the the European model, meaning state-funded institutions of higher learning, most of them failed and were replaced by church sponsored institutions in starting in the 1820s (Geiger, 2014). Contributing to the situation is the fact that America lacked a system of secondary education at this time (Geiger, 2014).
The mid 1800s brought two events that had a huge impact on higher education in America – the end of the civil war and the passage of the Morrill Act in 1862 (Thelin, 2011). The Morrill Act provided grants of federal land to the states for the purpose of establishing institutions of higher education (Thelin, 2011). Although the impact of this act on education was significant, it is also true that the federal government was motivated primarily by a desire to disperse land rather than promote education; the states were left to manage their institutions with little federal oversight (Thelin, 2011)
By 1880 there were few true universities in America with really only five existing at the time, but this was to change with the formation of the Association of American Universities in 1900 (Thelin, 2011). This brought about the emergence of true research institutions, where each discipline had a national society and publications that were open to qualified practitioners (Geiger, 2014). The wealth and energy of this period of growth produced rivalries and donors competing for the best universities (Thelin, 2011). When research funding first appeared in the 1920s this competition intensified (Geiger, 2014).
Mass higher education makes it appearance between 1920 and 1945 when enrollment in higher education increased fivefold, from 250,000 in 1920 to 1.43 million in 1945 (Thelin, 2011). This wave of campus building included stadiums and the emergence of the monumental campus (Thelin, 2011). It also ushered in the appearance of junior colleges, teachers colleges, and urban universities as the surge of new students continued to swell (Geiger, 2014). Women and minorities also appear in increasing numbers, although their acceptance by most colleges was restricted and both groups suffered significant discrimination during this period (Geiger, 2014). It was a time of intense growth and excess on campuses across the nation (Thelin, 2011).
Following World War II, from 1945 to 1970, higher education in America was in the midst of its Golden Age, a period of prosperity, prestige and popularity (Thelin, 2011). Growth in universities included not only increased enrollment, as the number of students continued to rise, but also an increase in the scope and quality of educational programs, primarily advanced academically selective programs (Thelin, 2011). Although enrollment had been at nearly 1.5 million prior to WWII, and dipped slightly during the war, it rose to 2.7 million by 1950, 3.6 million in 1960, and 7.9 million by 1970 (Thelin, 2011).
Troubling Developments in Higher Education
Between 1970 and 1980 the beginning of the failure of confidence in higher education in America began, focussing initially on the lack of data to support its success and worsening with the oil embargo and falling profits margins in education (Thelin, 2011). The federal government became involved in funding higher education in the form of student financial aid during this time (Thelin, 2011). The emergence of high profile college athletics, the growth of research funding and the soaring cost of education, in addition to the social unrest of the 1970s, further contributed to more troubling times for higher education in America (Thelin, 2011).
Geiger, R.L. (2014). The history of American higher education: Learning and culture from the founding to world war II. Princeton University Press.
Thelin, J.R. (2011). A history of American higher education (2nd ed.). Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
The history of higher education itself is covered elsewhere in this blog. On this page the role of women in that history is considered.
Initially universities in America were closed to women, by statute (Thelin, 2011). Between 1800 and 1860 fourteen institutions of higher learning enrolled women and the earliest women’s colleges opened between 1840 and 1850 (Thelin, 2011). These included Knox University in Illinois, Wesleyan Female Seminary in Macon, Georgia, and Masonic University in Selma, Alabama (Thelin, 2011). Most of these early institutions were not called colleges and were intended to provide an excellent education for daughters of the wealthy along with preparation for traditional women’s roles in society such as household hostess, wife, and mother (Thelin, 2011). It is also notable that these early institutions were controversial, viewed as extremist, and sought only by a minority of individuals (Thelin, 2011).
By the end of the civil war there was a movement for co-educational institutions and a few opened in the west and midwest, including at Cornell (Thelin, 2011). Unfortunately these institutions did not treat women as equal or even treat them well; women were segregated within the institution itself, discouraged from certain courses, and barred from all extracurricular activities (Thelin, 2011). The women, perhaps not surprisingly, ignored these restrictions and created their own extracurricular activities. In addition, this was a period of significant growth in women’s colleges. Between 1870 and 1890 many women’s colleges were formed including such notable institutions as Wellesley, Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, and Smith, creating an intellectual environment for women such that many graduates of these programs went on to obtain advanced degrees in law, medicine, and PhD programs – it was a period of unprecedented opportunity for female students and faculty (Thelin, 2011).
Between 1880 and 1920 women’s colleges were hugely successful; enjoying the benefit of large endowments and patronage by the daughters of wealthy families they also shared a vision of themselves as pioneers in the dream of academic success for women (Thelin, 2011). Campus life was rich in extracurricular activities while emphasis was on preparation for graduate school as well as the social graces appropriate for women (Thelin, 2011). These institutions included the ‘Seven Sisters’ of women’s colleges along with other institutions. Coeducational facilities of the time continued to offer unequal treatment, both in the curriculum and on campus, where women were openly mocked by male students and barred from specific activities by university officials (Thelin, 2011). Other colleges, such as Harvard, set up separate female facilities rather than allow women to enroll. It was also during this time that the argument about the dangers of college for women, used in the past to discourage female enrollment and including such things as undue physical strain, ‘brain fever’, and the risk of becoming ‘unfeminine’, switched to concerns about the risk to young men of having women in class; clearly the women had demonstrated their ability to handle both the academic and physical challenges of college education (Thelin, 2011).
By 1940 women comprised about 40% of enrollments in college, with roughly 300,000 women in college just after World War I and nearly 600,000 on the eve of World War II (Thelin, 2011). Interestingly, although the goal remained high quality education for women, this did not include a commitment to reducing discrimination based on gender and resulted in things such a quotas for women in some colleges while the elite women’s colleges became known for creating a class of elite women who focussed little on social justice or the plight of average women (Thelin, 2011). During this period women enjoyed greater opportunities at coed colleges although they were still unlikely to hold positions of leadership; sororities and female activities likewise tended to operate as adjuncts to male organizations rather than organizations truly in their own right (Thelin, 2011). It is also notable that graduate opportunities for women were shrinking during this time and few women were admitted to law or medical school (Thelin, 2011).
The following video, created in 2013, looks at women’s colleges in the 1960s with an eye to the pros and cons of separate education for men and women.
Title IX Policy
The biggest change in higher education for women came in the form of the Title IX legislation that was passed in 1972 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2013). This federal law protects people from gender discrimination in educational settings that receive federal financial assistance. Although this is not always understood, Title IX does not just apply to athletics but to all forms of education at institutions that receive federal funds, and does not apply just to women but to all people. It also applies to discrimination based on parenting, pregnancy, sexual harassment, and sexual violence. There is much more about campus violence on the Women in Society page, along with a good deal more information about the current rates of college attendance and the success of women on campus.
Notable Women in Higher Education
Various sources exist for examining the notable women who have contributed to higher education. The following short video was prepared for the Michael Tilford Conference on Diversity and Multiculturalism in 2012. This is an annual conference conducted by the University of Kansas and sponsored by the The Tilford Group. The inspirational women featured in this video offer a glimpse of the work of women who sought to positively impact higher education in America over the years.
Pasque, P.A. & Nicholson, S.E. (Eds.). (2011). Empowering women in higher education and student affairs: Theory, research, narratives, and practice from feminist perspectives. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
Solomon, B.M. (1985). In the company of educated women. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Thelin, J.R. (2011). A history of American higher education (2nd ed. ). Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
Nurses are highly thought of by the general public. So high, in fact, that nurses are consistently ranked number one among all professions for honesty and ethics according to a Gallup (2015) poll that has been conducted annually since 1999. Yet as a primarily female profession and despite being an increasingly well-educated one, with the proliferation of advanced practice nurses and initiatives to promote doctoral education in nursing, nurses have struggled to cope with issues that women everywhere face: issues of equality, recognition, and advancement. It is the impact of these issues on the university setting, and the relationship of these issues with nursing and nursing practice, that is the focus of this post.
There are many topics to consider in this broad issue, and specific information is available elsewhere in this blog. The history of American higher education is important to understand in the context of the institutions in America, and more specifically the history of women in higher education, which provides illumination on the views about women and education in the history of America. The topic of women in higher education is impossible to examine without specific information about the role of women in society, including an overview of American versus world issues, feminist issues, and significant barriers to women that exist in American society. You are encouraged to review these pages as a prelude to the discussion below.
The role of the nurse and the role of the nurse educator, in the context of the information presented in these pages, is the primary focus of this page. How does the information presented on these other pages affect nursing education and nursing research?
Where Does Nursing Fit in?
In considering the topic of women in higher education and how it relates to nursing it is clear that this is a topic with multiple interrelated concerns. The education of nurses is impacted by the history of higher education and of women in higher education. Issues that become apparent in reviewing those topics include the role of women in society and the barriers that continue to impact women today. These issues impact nurses as women functioning in a university setting as well as nurses interacting with patients that are impacted by these issues.
An additional area that nurses must manage is their relationship with other health care providers, relationships which are often deeply affected by the issues impacting women in society. A study by Sirota (2007) looked at the relationship between nurses and physicians, specifically trying to identify if the historically notable tensions between the two professions continues. Unfortunately she found this to be true, and respondents to her survey identified four majors issues that they believe contribute to the problem: inappropriate or abusive behavior by physicians, dismissive attitudes towards nurses, power/gender issues, and communication/collaboration issues (Sirota, 2007). It is perhaps not a coincidence that these issues reflect the issues identified as obstacles for women in society.
Nurses as University Students and Faculty
Obviously nurses exist on college campuses and institutions of higher learning both as students as as faculty. As such, female student nurses are exposed to the potential dangers of violence towards women on campus while faculty are engaged in work in what is sometimes disparagingly referred to as one of the ‘kitchens’ in the university setting; that is, colleges dominated by women and often viewed as less powerful and less important by university officials (Thelin, 2011). Lack of recognition for work performed, failure to be promoted at the same rate as men, and pay inequities are all issues faced by female faculty in the university setting. Awareness of these issues, and the corollary of how these issues impact our patients, is a significant concern for both nursing students and faculty.
Nurses as Holistic Health Care Providers
Nurses are taught a holistic approach to patient care, one that encompasses not only the patient and their family, but also the community, care continuity, chronic disease management, patient education, prevention and wellness care, and information management (ANA, 2010). There are few relationships as intimate as the relationship between a nurse and a patient – nurses attend their patients during births and deaths, through frightening procedures and terrifying outcomes. Nurses often bear witness to the intense suffering as well as the beauty of the authentic person encountered during times of tremendous stress and life change. The care for our patients often encompasses all aspects of their health, including how they are affected by their role in our society.
Additionally, the role of the advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) expands this to care in multiple speciality areas and as potential leaders in integrated care systems (ANA, 2010). In 2011 there were over 3.5 million nurses employed in the United States, about 4% of which were either nurse practitioners or nurse anesthetists (US Census, 2013).
Nurses are often referred to as advocates for their patients. This is a role that is no less important in the area of women in society and women in higher education. Nurses need to be given the tools needed to address these issues both professionally and personally.
Men in Nursing
Of course not all nurses are women and the history of men in the profession has not always been a smooth one. Nursing had significant male representation through the 1800’s due to the relationship between nursing and military and religious groups (US Census, 2013). This changed drastically in the 1900s when men were often refused admission based on gender, a practice that only ended with the finding of discrimination by the US Supreme Court in 1981 (US Census, 2013).
The number of men in nursing has increased steadily in recent years with men making up 2.7% of registered nurses in 1970 and rising to 9.6% in 2011 (US Census, 2013). Male representation is highest among nurse anesthetists where 41% are men (US Census, 2013). As in other professions, pay inequity is a concern, with male nurses making more than their female counterparts – this gap continues even among nurses in the same specialty areas. Female registered nurses make 91 cents for every dollar earned by their male co-workers and female nurse practitioners make 81 cents for every dollar earned by male nurse practitioners (US Census, 2013). More detailed information about pay inequality can be found on the Women in Society page.
Regardless of these issues, however, male nurses face the same issues that female nurses face in terms of caring for their patients and their relationships with other healthcare professions. Male nurses have much to contribute to the profession of nursing, both in the university setting and in the practice of nursing, and the contribution they can make on the issue of women in higher education is potentially huge.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Many suggestions have been identified for the education of nurses in regards to the issues covered here. To address the issue of relationships with physicians and other health care professionals Sirota (2007) recommends empowering nurses by providing an excellent education and instilling a desire to stay current with their profession so as to increase confidence and security in their knowledge base. She also recommends that nurses maintain a professional demeanor at all times in relating with physicians and others as equals in a collegial, respectful, and problem-solving manner. These are skills and beliefs that can and should be taught at all levels of nursing education.
All students and faculty on the university or college campus should be provided with information regarding the risk of violence against women on campus and the training to be a proactive bystander. A model for this can be found on the University of Kentucky website on the Green Dot Program. That page contains an extensive list of strategies appropriate for all people. Immersion in this type of program should be mandatory for all faculty and students.
All students and faculty should also be educated about the information provided in these pages, in the role of women in American society and the impact of that role on women in higher education, including use of many of the materials provided. The application of this information includes anticipating issues in professional life, such as negotiating for salary and position, and awareness of the behaviors required for advancement, as well as being sensitive for these issues in the patients that nurses encounter.
In 2011 the Institute of Medicine released its landmark work on the Future of Nursing. One of the mandates in this work was that nurses be full partners with physicians and other health care professionals in rebuilding health care in America (IOM, 2011). To that end, and as a means of impacting on the role of nurses in the university setting as well as in the hospital setting, leadership skills should be incorporated at all levels of nursing education. Bianco, Dudkiewicz, and Linette (2014) view this as fundamentally important to the future of nursing in higher education and in health care.
Finally, the role of nurses as advocates needs to be emphasized at all levels of nursing education and expanded to include advocating for nursing itself. Nurses need to be involved socially, politically, and individually for the benefit of their patients and the profession of nursing. If we are to truly achieve an egalitarian society, we need the support and work of all professions. As a primarily female profession intimately involved in the lives of so many women, it behooves us to start with ourselves.
There is a huge need for more research by nurses on the issues mentioned in this blog. This would include the following topics, in particular:
– Nurse/physician relationships in the context of interdisciplinary work and cooperative endeavors.
– Ways to incorporate the plethora of social sciences and theories of human behavior into nursing practice. This is for the purpose of improved patient care, improved social interactions, and more effective educational interventions.
– Factors influencing advancement, tenure, pay, and recognition for women in higher education – this is an area that is not fully understood, despite multiple theories.
– Studies on the effectiveness of interventions to prevent violence on campus and to intervene with the perpetrators as well as campus staff.
– Research into the effectiveness of methods of social reform – how can a more equal society be encouraged without loss of individual freedoms?