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Higher education policy overlooked as key to women's progress, professor argues in book talk

At The Regulator Bookshop Tuesday night, a Duke professor talked to the mayor about the federal government’s role in empowering women.

Deondra Rose, assistant professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy, spoke about her new book, “Citizens by Degree: Higher Education Policy and the Changing Gender Dynamics of American Citizenship.” Durham Mayor Steve Schewel moderated the discussion. 

In the book, Rose argued that the mid-20th century's higher education policies—notably the National Defense Education Act of 1958, the Higher Education Act of 1965 and Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments—paved the way for women to earn more bachelor’s degrees than men annually. She claimed that those policies have been overlooked in favor of women’s recent gains in political and socioeconomic status.

Title IX: Treating schools like 'kindergarteners'

Title IX was passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972 after government leaders realized that they couldn’t always trust educational institutions not to discriminate, Rose said. 

Congress had to use a carrot-and-stick approach—a strategy that involves both offering a reward and threatening with punishment—to curb discrimination.

Congress incentivized universities with financial aid and Pell Grants, but those weren’t effective enough to stop schools from discriminating against women. As a result, it passed regulations like Title IX that forced institutions to be more inclusive—they had to be treated like “kindergarteners,” Rose said.

Rose: We should learn to love the 'welfare state'

Schewel pointed out that Rose often includes the phrase “welfare state” in her book even though the expression is commonly used to express distrust of the government. She countered that although the phrase is “politically fraught,” people are unaware how much they benefit from the government. 

The welfare state encompasses more than just food stamps, she explained. It includes federally funded financial aid, such as Pell Grants, and popular programs such as Medicare. To Rose, government should not always be viewed as the problem. In fact, she argued government policy can do a lot of good when written and administered properly.

Rose discussed “policy feedback analysis,” a concept mentioned in her book that looks at how policies reshape political engagement. 

The education bills she wrote about all expanded access to education for women, and as a result women took home greater incomes and were more informed voters, she said. Thus, according to Rose, they became more politically involved.

Rose says she loved the research for the book

Researching for a book can be a grueling process that sours researchers’ interests in their subjects after it’s all over. That’s how Rose said she felt after writing her graduate dissertation on higher education policy’s effect on gender dynamics. 

When she attended a seminar on women’s progress a few years ago, she noticed how none of the causes listed—access to birth control, more job opportunities, changing gender norms—mentioned education or policy. That’s when she decided to begin research for “Citizens by Degree.”

Rose loved conducting interviews over the course of her research to hear firsthand accounts of how different education bills got passed. One of her interviews was Bernice Sandler, a women’s rights activist whom she called “godmother of Title IX.” 

Sandler told Rose that she was excited to lobby Congress in support of the 1972 Education Amendments and Title IX. However, former Rep. Edith Green (D-OR) told Sandler not to lobby Congress because men might drop their support of the bill. Upset, Sandler replied, “but we have stickers!”

Jake Satisky | Editor-in-Chief

Jake Satisky is a Trinity senior and the digital strategy director for Volume 116. He was the Editor-in-Chief for Volume 115 of The Chronicle. 


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