• September 1, 2015

Female Students Are Just as Persistent as Men in Engineering, Database Shows

It may be hard to attract women into engineering, but keeping them there doesn't seem to be a problem.

That's the latest finding from a database of 70,000 engineering students at nine institutions in the southeastern United States tracked over a 17-year period ending in 2005.

The resource, called the Multiple-Institution Database for Investigating Engineering Development, is managed by Matthew W. Ohland, an associate professor of engineering education at Purdue University. The latest findings, accepted for publication in a future issue of the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, were derived by researchers at Purdue, the University of San Diego, and the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

Only about 20 percent of undergraduate engineering students are women, Mr. Ohland said. But the database shows women aren't dropping out at any greater rate than men are, suggesting more efforts should be made in recruiting women into engineering than on trying to retain them.

Earlier research with the database suggested ways of working on that problem, such as making calculus part of a general college curriculum, thereby increasing the odds that a student in another major will later transfer into engineering.


1. 11167997 - August 04, 2009 at 04:03 pm

Demonstrated nationally a long time ago in "Women and Men of the Engineering Path: a Model for Analysis of Undergraduate Careers," U.S. Department of Education, 1998. Nice to know some things don't change; not so encouraging to know that other things don't change.

2. ohland - August 04, 2009 at 04:45 pm

On the contrary, the Women and Men of the Engineering Path study is frequently cited to support a gender gap in persistence. The study's Executive Summary states: 'while there is a 20 percent gap between women and men on the engineering path [referring to a 61.6% completion rate for men vs. a 41.9% completion rate for women], among the most qualified students there is no difference in degree completion rates.' The recent work doesn't qualify this conclusion by looking only at students who made it past a certain 'threshold' nor does it restrict these conclusions to only high-performing students.

3. suse85 - August 04, 2009 at 07:29 pm

The Chronicle article misinterprets the findings by suggesting that more efforts should be made in recruiting women into engineering than on trying to retain them. Certainly, we wouldn't want to drop efforts, curricular, pedagogical, and co-curricular, to retain students in engineering -- women, men, or other groups. In fact, what the research confirms, once again, is that there is opportunity to make additional efforts to retain *all* students interested in engineering, *and* to adjust what is an unnecessarily early commitment to the field by forcing choice of college major before a student has ever had a chance to explore alternatives. Women, and students of color, have served as the "canaries in the coal mine," leaving the field, as do others, when the subjects are poorly taught, or have little relation to real world problem solving, or when the educators teaching and advising seem little interested in encouraging them or doubt they can succeed. The recruitment objective adds an additional challenge, because there is a deeply entrenched myth pervasive in U.S. white culture, the common source of U.S. engineers, that women are less well-equipped than men to succeed in mathematics-based fields, and complex socioeconomic factors that still present barriers for success for women in many professions. Though plenty of research studies have refuted such presumptions, the belief system is slow to change.

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