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The Gender Gap: College Freshmen’s Interest in Engineering

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For more than six decades, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) has provided female engineers a unique place and voice within the engineering industry. This year, they’ve analyzed data from the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at UCLA to determine that, while interest in majoring in engineering and computer science is increasing, the gap between men and women’s intentions to major in engineering and computer science remains wide.

Every year, for over 50 years, the HERI at UCLA administers the Freshman Survey to gain a better understanding of the pre-college experiences of incoming college students. While many universities do not require students to declare a major right away, the Freshman Survey continues to report freshmen intentions so we can see that, while interest in majoring in engineering and computer science is increasing, the gap between men and women’s intentions to major in engineering and computer science remains wide.

What’s causing this gap? While many theorize, there is at least one concrete fact: this interest gap exists well before students enter college. HERI’s report on the Fall 2017 cohort found that incoming male college freshmen were more than twice as likely as female freshmen to have experience with coding in the past year- and there were substantial variations in the gender gap by race/ethnicity, as shown below:

Another indicator of this gap is seen in the Advanced Placement exam rates of certain science and mathematics coursework in high school. Lower rates of AP exams in calculus, physics, and computer science may indicate a lack of interest in pursuing an engineering or computer science degree in secondary education.

How does this affect efforts to close the gender gap in engineering and technology? It necessitates the early involvement in young females’ lives to spark interest in studying these fields, encouraging them to take the courses that expose them to engineering and technology concepts.

To read more about SWE, their analysis of the Freshman Survey, and their work to narrow the gender gap in engineering, click here.

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