June 14, 2009
June 14, 2009
June 17, 2009
Women in Engineering
14.675.1 - 14.675.9
How we measure success makes a difference: Eight-semester persistence and graduation rates for female and male engineering students Abstract
Recent research has shown that, although stereotypes prevail about women’s attrition rates in undergraduate engineering, there is no gender gap in the persistence of engineering students to the eighth semester of study. How “persistence” is measured, however, is of methodological concern as we look at what constitutes success. “Persistence” is reported in the literature in various ways as approximate measures of graduation, which is the ultimate goal.
To examine the relationship between measures of persistence and graduation, analyses were conducted using MIDFIELD (the Multiple-Institution Database for Investigating Engineering Longitudinal Development). The database includes student records from 75,686 first-time-in- college students matriculating in engineering at one of nine public universities in the southeastern United States. We found gender and institutional differences in the six-year graduation rates of students who persist to the eighth semester. An important result of this work is demonstrating how studying different outcomes can tell different stories about the same students: studying eight-semester persistence for aggregate populations can provide a reasonable surrogate for graduation, but may paint an overly optimistic picture at some institutions, and the study of both outcomes can provide new and valuable information about the student experience.
There is disagreement in the literature concerning the existence of a gender gap in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines in general, and engineering in particular. Although conventional wisdom and a number of studies state that women persist in engineering majors at lower rates than do men,1,2 numerous studies document that women who matriculate directly into engineering majors persist at the similar rates to their male counterparts.3,4,5,6 In one study, the authors note that while there are fewer women present at each educational stage, they are more likely to persist in math, science, and engineering (STEM) disciplines.7
If standards of student quality are upheld, the most favorable institutional condition is a high eight-semester persistence leading to a high six-year graduation rate. Preliminary findings suggest that while some students may be on a journey of exploration,8 the combination of a high eight-semester persistence rate and a low six-year graduation rate may be indicative of a systematic process by which students become trapped in unsuccessful pathways. Thus, we suggest that, for a particular six-year graduation rate in engineering, a lower eight-semester persistence rate may be preferable because students who leave engineering are guided to their final outcome (graduation in another field or institutional departure) more quickly.
The study of gender differences in these outcomes reveals institutional differences in the experiences of women in engineering that suggest this approach can provide institutions with a useful benchmark for success in striving for gender equity in engineering. Further, the observed gender differences may provide large-scale quantitative support for earlier qualitative findings. 1
Ohland, M., & Camacho, M., & Layton, R., & Long, R., & Lord, S., & Wasburn, M. (2009, June), How We Measure Success Makes A Difference: Eight Semester Persistence And Graduation Rates For Female And Male Engineering Students Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4937
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