Hartford Explores Critical Issues in Women’s Education

Maureen A. Hartford, Meredith’s first woman president, presented a look at the history and future of women’s education during a February 28, 2011, public lecture held to commemorate the College’s Founders’ Day.
Hartford, who has more than 30 years of experience in higher education, will retire in June 2011 after 12 years as president of Meredith College.

Hartford noted that “120 years and one day” prior to her lecture, the charter was granted to create what became Meredith College, and that “12 years and one day ago” she had been named Meredith’s seventh president.

The lecture, which was peppered with the perspectives of college presidents and other higher education leaders, offered a look at the history of women’s education in the United States, the role of women’s colleges, current criticism of higher education and student learning outcomes.

“Women’s access to higher education at all levels has come a very long way during the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century,” Hartford said. “Women’s majority presence at our colleges and universities probably represents one of the notable achievements in women’s equality in the last century.”

Despite these gains, women’s education still brings challenges with it. Hartford shared what she called “problems in paradise,” including women “dumbing down” in coeducational classrooms, increasing levels of stress among women students, and whether women learn differently from men.

Hartford also cited issues with how U.S. educational systems were designed.

“America’s current education system, created during the industrial era, resembles an assembly line…with all students required to master the same body of knowledge in the same period of time.”

Hartford ended with “a challenge on how we might do a better job.”

“We must prepare students, men and women, with a different kind of education than their parents experienced – and we must create curricula that both stimulate students and prepare them for the high speed…instant gratification, multitasking world in which they live, and we must acknowledge that women are different,” Hartford said.

The event was part of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Presidential Lecture Series at Meredith College, which stimulates and enhances the intellectual and academic climate at Meredith College and the broader community.

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