In-Depth Guide

Specialty Schools: Women’s Colleges

Higher education is a surefire way to expand your professional opportunities and earning potential. And for the many women with heavy job or family responsibilities, online learning is the best way to pursue a college education, allowing for flexibility and a better selection of degree programs.

While online education is helping women achieve their professional goals through flexibility, women’s colleges benefit women by creating an academic atmosphere tailored to the preferences of collegiate women. For decades, these institutions recognized the need for an environment that is both sensitive and stimulating to help drive the success of their students. With today’s rapid growth in online learning, many women’s colleges are offering more and more distance-learning options, creating an ideal educational option for certain women seeking the best of both worlds.

This guide is designed to provide a brief history and overview of women’s colleges past and present, as well as to examine online education modules directly related to women in higher education.

History of Women’s Colleges

The landscape of higher education has changed dramatically in the last century. More students are attending part-time, and there is more age and ethnic diversity on college campuses everywhere. In addition, women now make-up the the majority of students at the postsecondary level.

Originally, women’s colleges were created because there were so few institutions that allowed women at all. Today, a women’s college is defined as an institution where there is a mission to serve the needs of women in higher education among a predominantly or exclusively female student body. Though many institutions that were originally created for women have expanded enrollment to men as well.

According to the Department of Education, women’s colleges today are mostly private 4-year institutions. The actual number of women’s colleges has dropped from approximately 300 in 1960 to less than 80 today. However, the majority of today’s women’s colleges have seen increasing enrollments over the past few years.

Just as online learning continues to grow among all institutions, the growing demand has led to increased learning opportunities among women’s colleges. Universities, such as Texas Women’s University are adding online degree options to their traditional coursework. Wellesley University was among the first women’s colleges to offer open online access to their courses, with the belief that educating women is a critical way to make a difference in the world.

Benefits of Women’s Colleges

Women’s colleges have come a long way from the 1830s, when women were limited to taking certain courses and were even required to complete “school tasks,” like knitting the socks of their male classmates! Even back then it was clear that simply allowing women to attend college was hardly the same as providing an environment and curriculum designed to promote the role of women in higher education.

Alumnae of women’s colleges today say the most important benefit of these institutions is their ability to learn among a select group of intelligent and ambitious women. Indeed, women’s colleges are often some of the most competitive institutions; programs that are able to attract some of the most highly motivated women scholars.

A report from the Women’s College Coalition found that women’s colleges performed higher academically, and produced more female entrepreneurs than co-ed liberal arts colleges. Respondents of the survey also indicated they felt that a women’s college was better able to encourage potential and leadership.

Popular Majors in Women’s Colleges

While business remains among the most popular majors for both men and women, according to Forbes magazine, women traditionally dominate majors in education, liberal arts, or health care. Yet women also make-up the majority of online students. A striking statistic considering one third of all online students are pursuing degrees in business, according to a recent survey from LearningHouse, an online learning consultant. Women dominate the market for fully online programs, and a majority are pursuing their degree while holding down a full-time job. That being said, men are still the top dogs in business school programs, so for male-dominated majors like business, engineering, and computer science, women’s colleges can provide a more female-focused curriculum.


Advancements in technology are boosting the number of online courses available at women’s colleges. The flexibility of this learning platform and the ability of women’s colleges to focus on the needs of female students provide an environment where scholastic success is refreshingly common for women. It’s safe to assume these opportunities will continue to grow in order to meet the rising demand of online students, regardless of gender.