The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had a question for women undergrads who had expressed interest in an economics major: Would you consider attending the business school? For the first time this year, the women were invited to participate in focus groups to discuss their career goals, and a representative of the school’s Kenan-Flagler Business School spoke about the 10 different concentrations available, ranging from consulting to international business.
“We tried to break down myths,” says Lawrence Murray, director of the undergraduate program at Kenan-Flagler, where 40 percent of undergrads are women. One of those myths, he says, was that all business majors aimed to work in finance. Another, he adds, was that the economics and business programs accomplish the same things.
There’s a reason the school went to such lengths to recruit women, who are viewed as critical to many B-schools’ diversity efforts. Although women make up about 50 percent of college business graduates nationally, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), female representation at stronger undergraduate business programs was about 44 percent this year, down from 47 percent in 2008, according to data collected by Bloomberg Businessweek for its latest ranking.
Those figures have the potential to slip further: Of incoming college freshman who said they intend to major in business, about 39 percent in 2012 were women, down from about 42 percent in 2006, according to annual surveys conducted by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute (HERI).
One factor contributing to the decline may be that health-related degrees are siphoning away women. The percentage of incoming female college freshmen indicating they will major in a health profession rose each year from 2007 through 2012, to 19.4 percent from 16.7 percent, according to HERI. Women graduated with these types of degrees 5.7 times more than men did, according to NCES.