Graduates of all-girls schools have a definitive edge over their co-educated peers. In December 2018, the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) released the results of a study that shows statistically significant advantages for girls’ school graduates as they enter university. Commissioned by the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools (NCGS), Fostering Academic and Social Engagement: An Investigation into the Effects of All-Girls Education in the Transition to University was prepared by principal investigator Dr. Tiffani Riggers-Piehl, Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), in collaboration with HERI. This new data analysis is an update of a 2009 report, also published by HERI, that was originally conducted by Dr. Linda Sax of UCLA in association with Dr. Riggers-Piehl.
These two major peer-reviewed studies spanning Generations Y and Z compare the self-confidence, academic achievement, political engagement, and aspirations of girls’ school graduates to their coeducated peers. Drawing data from the well-known Freshman Survey conducted by HERI, both studies used the same sophisticated multilevel modeling to separate the effect of an all-girls education from other influences including socioeconomic differences, race/ethnicity, parent education, and the characteristics of the high schools attended. Dr. Riggers-Piehl and her colleagues note the data reveals “a consistent portrait of girls’ school graduates who are more engaged academically and socially than their co-educated peers, findings which align with the profile outlined in the aforementioned report in 2009.”
The study identified several key areas in which all-girls schools are better preparing their students for success in university and beyond. Based on the reported data, the researchers concluded that when compared to their female peers at coed schools, girls’ school graduates:
- Have stronger academic skills
- Are more academically engaged
- Demonstrate higher science self-confidence
- Display higher levels of cultural competency
- Express stronger community involvement
- Exhibit increased political engagement
Specifically, the research report identifies over 80 statistically significant differences that favor graduates of all-girls schools when compared to female graduates of coed schools, such as the following:
- Girls’ school alumnae are 5% more likely than their co-educated peers to say they frequently seek alternative solutions to a problem and more frequently explore topics on their own, even when not required. More than 2/3 of girls’ school graduates report frequently supporting their arguments with logic, whereas coed school female graduates are 7% less likely to report this academic skill.
- Graduates of girls’ school are 7% more likely to frequently tutor other students and 6% more likely to frequently study with others.
- Girls’ school graduates, compared to students from coed schools, are 4% more likely to report they are “very confident” or “absolutely confident” in their understanding of scientific concepts and ability to explain the results of a study and use technical science skills such as tools, instruments, and techniques.
- When asked about their ability to work and live in a diverse society, alumnae from all-girls schools are nearly 10% more likely to have the goal of helping promote racial understanding, and 75% value improving their understanding of other countries and cultures, compared to 70% of their co-educated peers. Half (50%) of girls’ school graduates, compared to 45% of female students from coed schools, count their tolerance of others with different beliefs as a strength. Girls’ school alumnae are 6% more likely to note their ability to work cooperatively with diverse people as a strength.
- Girls’ school graduates are 8% more likely to have a goal of participating in community action programs and are 5% more likely to think it is “very important” or “essential” to become involved in environmentally minded Alumnae of all-girls schools more frequently participate in volunteer work compared to their co-educated peers—52% versus 47%.
- Women who attended all-girls schools are 5% more likely than co-educated graduates to plan to vote in elections and to publicly communicate their opinion about a cause. Considering their political engagement, graduates from all-girls schools are 7% more likely to think it is “very important” to have the goal of keeping up-to-date with political affairs.
As the data shows, girls’ school graduates rate themselves as more successful and engaged in areas where men have historically seen greater representation: science and politics. Reflecting on the totality of the findings, the researchers noted, “these statistically significant results demonstrate differences in areas of critical importance in the twenty-first century for women as they enter university and beyond, thus emphasizing the contribution of all-girls schooling for women’s success.”