Losing Girls Between High School and CollegeApril 25, 2011
Each month this year, AAUW is teaming up with Nature Publishing Group, one of the world’s leading science publishers, in an online forum on women in science. The AAUW posts highlight findings from our 2010 research report, Why So Few? Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, now in its third printing.
The transition from high school to college is a critical moment when many young women turn away from science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) career paths. Although nearly equal numbers of young men and women graduate from high school with the right classes and grades to pursue a STEM major, women are far less likely than their male peers to plan to major in these fields. Almost one-third (29 percent) of all male freshmen, compared with only 15 percent of all female freshmen, planned to major in a STEM field in 2006. The gender disparity is even more significant when the biological sciences are not included. Just over 20 percent of all male freshmen planned to major in engineering, computer science, or the physical sciences compared with only about 5 percent of female freshmen.
If they do decide to pursue STEM majors, many of these academically capable women change their minds early in their college careers, as do many of their male peers. For example, in engineering the national rate of retention from entry into the major to graduation is just under 60 percent for women and men. Although the overall retention of female undergraduates in STEM is similar to the retention rate for men, understanding why women leave STEM majors is still an important area of research since women make up a smaller percentage of STEM students from the start.
Why do you think we lose so many STEM-interested girls between high school and college? And what makes women STEM majors switch to different fields?