Written by: Lauren Liebhaber
Catherine Brewer was the first woman in the United States to earn a bachelor’s degree in 1840. That’s relatively recently when you consider Harvard had been accepting and graduating men for more than 200 years. Brewer, who graduated from Wesleyan College, a women-only institution in Macon, Georgia, paved the way for a slew of historic firsts for women in education over the next 40 years.
The 19th century saw the founding of women-only and coed institutions and expanded access to curricula beyond vocational training or limitations set by a woman’s perceived societal role. And while it wasn’t immediate equality for all, it was significant progress. Today, women in college outnumber men 2:1, according to the most recent enrollment data analyzed by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. (It is important to note that the St. Louis Fed breaks its data down by men and women and lacks any tracked data for trans or nonbinary students.)
Women are also enrolling full-time at top business schools at a record rate. The nonprofit Forte Foundation found that women comprised at least 45% of enrollment at a record 17 business school MBA programs. The number of women-led Fortune 500 companies reached 44 in 2022—a record high but still a relatively small share.
Best Universities collected information on the schools that the top 10 women Fortune 500 CEOs attended, using company websites, news coverage, and LinkedIn. The compilation includes undergraduate, post-graduate, and honorary degrees, as well as graduation years when available.
FIND ACCREDITED ONLINE COLLEGES
Access a list of regionally accredited online colleges and details about how accreditation works
Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Jaguar Land Rover // Getty Images
#10. Thasunda Duckett (TIAA)
– University of Houston, bachelor’s degrees in finance and marketing, 1996
– Baylor University, master of business administration, 2001
In 2021, Thasunda Duckett became the first Black CEO of the financial services company TIAA, short for Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America-College Retirement Equities Fund. This achievement also made her the third Black woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
Duckett’s first job out of college was with the Federal National Mortgage Association. While working at Fannie Mae, she pursued her MBA at Baylor University, where she has lauded the professor’s commitment and the collective values of the student body at large. Duckett has been honored on several prestigious lists, including Fortune’s 2021 list of Most Powerful Women and the EBONY Media Power list.
BECOME A MEDICAL ASSISTANT FAST
If you want to earn a medical assistant degree online, 6 weeks is all it takes. Find helpful information related to accelerated medical programs.
Jonathan Weiss // Shutterstock
#9. Tricia Griffith (Progressive)
– Illinois State University, bachelor’s degree in marketing, 1986
– University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, advanced management program, 2015
Tricia Griffith is the chief operating officer of Progressive Insurance, where she’s worked for more than 30 years. She started as a claims representative and worked her way up the ranks. When considering what she wanted out of a management program, Griffith told Wharton she chose the school for its ability to push her beyond the basics and beyond what she’s learned from her decades of experience. Griffith was named among Fortune’s 50 most powerful women in 2022.
JHVEPhoto // Shutterstock
#8. Corie Barry (Best Buy)
– College of St. Benedict, bachelor’s degrees in accounting and management, 1997
Best Buy CEO Corie Barry has been with the company for more than 20 years, starting as a financial analyst and taking on larger finance roles in her tenure. Unlike the other members of this list, Barry is the only one who has not received an advanced degree.
Barry’s alma mater, the all-women College of St. Benedict, places a particular emphasis on leadership development. In an interview, Barry noted that being surrounded by other women achieving at high levels inspired her during her time on campus. Barry was named one of Fortune’s 50 most powerful women in 2022.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP // Getty Images
#7. Jane Fraser (Citigroup)
– University of Cambridge, master’s degree in economics (undergraduate degree promoted with seniority), 1988
– Harvard University, master of business administration, 1994
After 18 years in various leadership positions at Citigroup, Jane Fraser became the CEO in 2021, making her the first woman to head a major U.S. bank. Fraser was born in Scotland, lived in Australia, and eventually ended up back in the U.K., where she attended Girton College, a constituent school of the University of Cambridge.
After years in a professional field dominated by men, she said in an interview that her time at Girton was particularly important because she was surrounded by many other successful and diverse women. After graduating, she joined Goldman Sachs, earned her MBA from Harvard, and later joined McKinsey before joining Citigroup. Fraser ranked third on Fortune’s 50 most powerful women list in 2022.
MOST AFFORDABLE ACCREDITED COLLEGES RANKED
Discover the cheapest online college from this list of colleges ranked based on affordability.
JIM WATSON/AFP // Getty Images
#6. Carol Tomé (United Parcel Service)
– University of Wyoming, bachelor’s degree in communication, 1979
– University of Denver, master’s degree in finance
Carol Tomé became the CEO of UPS in 2020. Before this role, Tomé served as the chief financial officer of Home Depot Inc. for 19 years. Tomé held other leadership positions at the company for a tenure of 24 years.
While earning her degree from Denver University’s Daniel College of Business, she believed her future involved eventually taking over her family’s independent bank. This future would never come to fruition due to her parents’ divorce. While reflecting on her time at DU, Tomé highlights her time as a graduate teaching assistant for computer programming and statistics classes as a foundational experience critical to her success. Tomé ranked sixth on Fortune’s list of 50 most powerful women in 2022.
JHVEPhoto // Shutterstock
#5. Sarah London (Centene)
– Harvard College, bachelor’s degrees in history and literature, 2002
– University of Chicago, master of business administration
Sarah London became the CEO of Centene in March 2022. London previously served as the company’s vice chairman and the senior vice president of technology innovation and modernization. Before joining Centene in 2020, she was a partner at Optum, a venture capital firm.
London graduated with high honors from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and magna cum laude from Harvard, where she studied history and literature. She was named to Fortune’s list of 50 most powerful women in 2022.
GET A FREE LAPTOP FROM THESE ONLINE COLLEGES
Explore this list of online colleges with free laptops, ipads, and other technology offers.
Roy Rochlin // Getty Images
#4. Mary Barra (General Motors)
– Kettering University, bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, 1985
– Stanford University, master of business administration, 1990
Mary Barra was named CEO of General Motors in 2014, making her the first woman to head one of the three major U.S. automakers. Barra joined GM in 1980 as a co-op student while at Kettering University. She worked her way up to numerous leadership positions, including roles as the executive vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain, senior vice president of global product development, vice president of global human resources, vice president of global manufacturing engineering, and plant manager of Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly.
Barra was awarded a GM Fellowship in 1988 before earning her MBA from Stanford. Barra ranked fourth on Fortune’s 50 most powerful women in 2022.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Women’s Sports Foundation // Getty Images
#3. Gail Boudreaux (Elevance Health)
– Dartmouth College, bachelor’s degree in psychology, 1982
– Columbia University, master of business administration
Elevance Health, formerly known as Anthem, named Gail Boudreaux its president and CEO in 2017. Before this role, she was the CEO of UnitedHealthcare and has more than 20 years of experience in the healthcare industry. She ranked ninth on Fortune’s list of 50 most powerful women in 2022.
Boudreaux’s professional success is rivaled only by her collegiate athletic success in basketball and track and field at Dartmouth College. She was a four-time All-Ivy League player, a three-time recipient of the Ivy League Player of the Year, and still holds the title of all-time leading scorer and rebounder in women’s basketball. She was also an All-American in the shot put. In January 2022, Boudreaux became the first Dartmouth alumna to receive the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Theodore Roosevelt Award—the group’s highest honor awarded to a former varsity athlete who becomes a person of national distinction.
Boudreaux made a $2 million endowment in 2015 for Dartmouth’s women’s basketball head coach position.
JASON REDMOND/AFP // Getty Images
#2. Roz Brewer (Walgreens Boots Alliance)
– Spelman College, bachelor’s degree in chemistry, 1984
– University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, advanced management program
Rosalind “Roz’ Brewer was named CEO of Walgreens Boots Alliance in 2021, making her the second black woman to lead a Fortune 500 company. Before this role, Brewer was the chief operating officer and group president of Starbucks and the president and chief executive officer of Sam’s Club.
Brewer was the first woman and black person to head a division of Walmart. In 2022, Brewer joined the board of VillageMD—a company specializing in developing primary care clinics. Through this partnership, the physician-staffed VillageMD clinic is now being attached to Walgreens pharmacies across the U.S.
Brewer remains connected to her alma mater through the Rosalind Gates Brewer Scholarship at Spelman College for first-generation college students. Brewer ranked seventh on Fortune’s list of 50 most powerful women in 2022.
FIND THE CHEAPEST ONLINE MBA PROGRAM
Find the cheapest online MBA program from this comprehensive list of regionally or nationally accredited colleges.
Dia Dipasupil // Getty Images
#1. Karen Lynch (CVS Health)
– Boston College, bachelor’s degree in accounting, 1984
– Boston University, master of business administration, 1999
– Becker College, honorary doctorate of humane letters, 2015
Karen Lynch, pictured above in the center, has more than 30 years of experience in health care. She served as CVS Health’s executive vice president before being named president and CEO in 2021. She also held top leadership positions at Aetna, where she was the first female president of Magellan Health Services and CIGNA.
Lynch has been included on many U.S. and global lists ranking women of power and influence. She was named Fortune’s most powerful woman in 2022.