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When Ann Marie Wallace entered college in the 1990s, Utah women were moving through bachelor's programs at almost the same pace as their male classmates.

But sometime over the course of the following generation, they've stumbled — falling from ½ percent behind to more than 3 percentage points behind, according to a recent study from Voices for Utah Children.

"That seemed like a mystery to me," said Wallace, who earned a marketing degree from Utah Sate University and is now a program director at the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. "I thought it would get better."

Economists and education activists are also puzzled.

After the report's release last month, Carrie Mayne, Department of Workforce Services' chief economist, sought to find out why. She asked her colleagues at the state agency, but none could point to any telling data, she said.

"Even though all of us can look around and see times have changed, and there's a lot more of encouragement for women to go on and complete those degrees," Mayne said. "For some reason, in Utah that doesn't seem to translate as strongly."

Data from 1992 to 1997 shows Utah men and women were nearly even when it came to having at least a bachelor's degree. The divide was less than a percent, with 24 percent of Utah men having the four-year degree, compared to 23.4 percent of women. But as of 2014, about 33 percent of men had a four-year degree, while just under 30 percent of women did.

Utah's conservative, family-centered culture may help explain the gap, notes Susan Madsen, a Utah Valley University professor of management who researches women and leadership.

In her own research, "many of the LDS women felt they were encouraged by leaders to go to college," Madsen said, "but not necessarily to graduate from college."

Followup studies tracking individual students could provide more insight, said University of Utah economist Gunseli Berik.

"We definitely need those," but no one has yet come forward to fund such a study, Berik said.

Utah is breaking the trend of the nation, where more women graduate than men.

Across the state's public colleges, enrollment has ticked upward, and is now over 85,000. But graduation rates largely are stagnant. About 60 percent of women in bachelor's degree programs are graduating — the same as five years ago.

A different shift is taking place in the state's workforce. Wallace, who advises female entrepreneurs for the chamber's Women in Business Center, says she sees more clients every year.

"People can be more than just one thing," she counsels them. "You can be a wife, mother and also own a business."

In Utah's business world, though, male workers out-earn their female colleagues at a higher rate than their counterparts in almost any other state, an earlier Voices analysis found. On average nationally, for every dollar a man earns, a woman in a similar job earns 79 cents; in Utah it's just 70 cents, giving the state the nation's fourth-largest wage gap.

Discrimination from bosses accounts for much of that, according to the Voices study, which is the case in the rest of the country. But compounding the issue, the analysis found, is that women in Utah are less likely than elsewhere to have degrees or enter higher-paid industries.

It's not that women, by nature, gravitate toward lower-paying jobs, Madsen said. Parents and other role models unaccustomed to the idea of women in male-dominated industries, she said, are failing to present them as an option.

Whether or not they are aware, Madsen said, teachers, parents, faith leaders and others may be holding girls back.

"We're all socialized," she said. "We have unconscious biases."

Some educators are working to combat that.

In Park City schools, administrators are urging elementary and middle school teachers to share encouraging words with girls in science and math exercises.

A career fair earlier this year aimed to show both male and female students and their family members what it is that scientists, engineers and others do, so that parents know what both sons and daughters are capable of achieving.

"You can't wait until late middle school or high school," said Kathy Einhorn, Park City School District's associate superintendent. "By then, some of those stereotypes are right in place."

The encouragement appears to be working. This school year, girls' enrollment is up in the district's computer science, construction and architectural design courses. The uptick varies by subject, from 12 percent to over 30 percent.

A new female robotics teacher, as well as other staff members, are reiterating that all students should feel free to explore the growing fields.

If more similar programs come online in other districts, Wallace said, "I really do think there's a bright future ahead of us."

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated Wallace's degree and graduation year.