Fewer Women Pursuing STEM Programs at Community College Today

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Fewer Women Pursuing STEM Programs at Community College Today
A recent study shows that fewer women are going after STEM degrees at community colleges today. We’ll take a look at the research and possible reasons why the number might be dropping.
Although STEM, an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subjects is touted as the wave of the future for practical fields of study that can launch lucrative careers, it appears that women back in the 2000s were not taking full advantage of the STEM opportunities presented at community colleges today. The gap was a concern for employers who wondered if there would be enough skilled workers to fill their positions in the future. Why were women appearing to shy away from STEM degree programs? There were many reasons for the drop, but the primary focus of educators and employers wass to help women overcome the challenges of STEM studies in order to produce a qualified, competitive workforce for the 21st century. And those efforts appear to have paid off.

An Upward Trend

When this article was written in 2012, the trend was downwards. Data in 2020 suggests that the number of women pursuing fields of study in STEM subjects appears to be increasing. According to a report at the Community College Times, women earned 34 percent of two-year STEM degrees in 1997. In 2020, according to USAFacts, the number of women graduating in STEM subjects shows steady year-over-year growth.

The Association of American Colleges and Universities states that a college education remains the brightest path to a future of mobility and economic security. The STEM fields offer a particularly lucrative path, with higher than average salaries and projected job growth. Many of these fields can be entered with just a two-year degree at the local community college, offering by far the best value for the tuition dollar.
So why aren’t women taking full advantage of these fields at the community college level? While theories have been circulating for some time, the recent study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research has managed to weed out some of the facts from the fiction, and it provides recommendations to help community colleges encourage women to pursue fields that will offer them the greatest growth potential in the long run.
This TEDx Talk discusses the need for more women in STEM.
According to a report at WCVB TV, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the rate of growth in STEM occupations will continue to outpace most other fields in the coming years. The agency estimates that STEM occupations could grow at twice the rate of other jobs in the United States. Salaries in STEM fields are also highly competitive, with many of these occupations paying much more than other jobs requiring similar education and training.
Discrepancies in average salaries between men and women also tend to be less in STEM occupations than in other jobs. The Association of American Colleges and Universities report cites statistics from a study conducted by the American Association of University Women that found one year out of college, women architects and engineers earned slightly more than their male counterparts. Within 10 years after graduation, women’s salaries had dropped to just 93 percent of what their male co-workers earned; however, that salary gap is much lower than what is seen in many other occupations today. Women working in these industries also continued to earn significantly more than those working in female-dominated industries like education and psychology.
STEM occupations provide sufficient salary ranges to support a family, which could bring many women out of the grip of poverty. This is particularly significant for women who are minorities, since these demographics tend to struggle the most with poverty-related issues. Single mothers can also use two-year STEM degree programs to bring their families to a reasonable income level that will provide their children with more opportunities for their futures.
“As the nation works to improve access to community college credentials, it is critical that women and people of color have equal access to high quality degrees, such as those in STEM fields, that lead to family-sustaining wages,” Barbara Gault, vice president and executive director of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, told the Community College Times. “A number of exciting programs around the country are working to break those gender and race divides, and their techniques can serve as a model for other community colleges that want to equalize enrollment in STEM programs.”
Increasing the number of women in STEM begins with encouraging girls to take STEM courses as this video illustrates.
Advantages of STEM Not Fully Realized
Despite the many advantages to STEM training, community colleges just aren’t bringing a significant number of female graduates into these occupations. Common theories for the low numbers have proven untrue, such as women are unable to perform as well in math classes and female students simply don’t have the interest in STEM fields of study. According to WCVB TV, some accurate reasons why women don’t pursue STEM degrees might include:
  • A lack of female role models in STEM fields
  • Instructional methods in STEM courses are not geared toward female students
  • Care-giving roles at home restrict the time and attention women can give to degree programs
Fortunately, there are ways community colleges can encourage more women to get involved in STEM degree programs. The report at the Association of American Colleges and Universities suggests that colleges put forth a greater effort to recruit female STEM students and then provide them with services and financial aid that will help them meet their goals. In addition, schools need to address the stereotypes associated with women in STEM occupations, help them make more accurate assessments of their math and science abilities, and broaden the scope of introductory STEM coursework so women can see the applicable benefits of STEM degrees and take advantage of the many opportunities available in this area.
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