by Leslie Morgan Steiner
The inevitable news that royal wedding bells will be ringing soon in England – in case you’ve been on a yoga retreat in Mexico, 28 year olds Prince William and Kate Middleton are engaged -- means many things to many people. Fashion designers and paparazzi salivate over the hope that the stunning Kate Middleton will become another Princess Diana, icon of beauty, glamour, femininity, fragility, and record-breaking People Magazine sales. The British royal family dreams of restoring its luster after years of tawdry, toe-sucking, tampon-envying scandals generated by Fergie, Camilla and Charles. Prince William and Kate seem to hope for the simple and eternally elusive marital bliss.
To me, however, the engagement signals one fascinating potential milestone: Should Kate Middleton become Queen Kate, she would be the first queen in British history to have a college degree. In fact, she’d be the first British queen to have any college education whatsoever.
How can this be?
The United Kingdom clearly values education. Oxford University  was founded in the 13th century. The nation’s second-oldest university, Cambridge , is celebrating its 800th anniversary. Hundreds of thousands of Brits – plus similar numbers of citizens from other countries – have graduated from British universities over the centuries.
Oh yes, these hundreds of thousands of outstanding products of the British educational system have been mostly men. Here history gets sticky for British pride.
Oxford did not admit women  for academic studies until 1920. Cambridge admitted us a year later, but reports that women are still struggling to succeed in a “perceived” male environment, because (and here I am quoting directly from the current Cambridge University website):
- women tend to be less self-confident
- women struggle to succeed in a perceived male environment at Cambridge
- women adapt less successfully to the different approach to study required at university compared to school. Girls often work very conscientiously, reaping success and recognition at school, especially through modular work. At university such hard work can become unsustainable, and the 'sudden death' system of exam-based results may not favour women
- women expend more time and energy on emotional support for friends and boyfriends
Biographies of upper class British women – including Tina Brown’s outstanding biography, The Diana Chronicles , and Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt  by Amanda McKenzie Stuart – detail precisely how pathetically Brits educate their upper class women. As in: not at all. Education is apparently seen as useless – or perhaps subversive -- for England’s most privileged women. Which makes me wonder whether British men consider women only useful for sex, childbearing and housecleaning, ala The Taliban, another institution that decries education for the fairer sex.
In my view, the height of privilege is education. That’s the rationale behind offering – and requiring -- public education in this country. Nearly 10 percent of our country’s spending goes to education. And the benefits are serious: each additional year of education brings a 10% increase in an individual’s earnings  in addition to myriad social, intellectual and quality-of-life benefits. Even in England, research conducted by PriceWatersCooperhouse showed that the incomes of women with university degrees in science increased by more than 26% .
However in the U.S., unlike the U.K., women of all races and at all income levels are encouraged, even pressured, to educate ourselves. In the 1970s, only 20% of American women had college degrees. By 2005, 43% did. Today more women than men earn college degrees in our country.
The very good news from across the pond – no, not a fixed wedding date -- is that norms in England are changing rapidly. Thirty years ago, 10% of British women earned college degrees . Twenty years ago, the percent had grown to 20%. Today, over 51% of British women enter college.
So while Kate might be England’s first college-educated queen, she surely won’t be its last.