STEM: A Fast Growing and Vital Field with a Declining Share of Women, According to a New Report:
Study provides first-ever focus on community college STEM programs that seek to recruit women.
Jobs in science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM) fields are expected to grow by 17 percent between 2008 and 2018, nearly double the growth of all other fields. A new
from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) shows that women are underrepresented in all but one STEM field, and have been losing ground in receipt of STEM degrees from community colleges over the last decade.
According to the new report,
Increasing Opportunities for Low-Income Women and Student Parents in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math at Community Colleges,
the share of women pursuing degrees in STEM fields at community colleges is significantly declining. In 1997, women earned 33.8 percent of these degrees but that number dropped to 27.5 percent in 2007. Although women make up close to half of the labor force, only one in four STEM jobs is held by a woman.
“Investing in STEM education for low-income women and student parents is a win-win strategy,” said Cynthia Costello, author of the report. “It strengthens the economic security of American families, and expands the number of highly-skilled STEM workers to make the nation more competitive in the 21
Women’s median annual earnings in most STEM fields are higher than what women earn in most occupations that are female-dominated. In fact, women with STEM jobs earn one-third more than women in non-STEM jobs.
Community colleges provide opportunities to low-income women and student parents to earn associate’s degrees in a variety of fields. Currently, women with associate’s degrees earn only 77 percent of what men earn, in part because men are more likely to enter higher-paying fields such as STEM. At the associate’s degree level, women are more likely to pursue career fields that are considered “traditional” such as consumer services (86.7 percent female), health sciences (84.6 percent female), and education (73.8 percent female).
Analysis of data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) found the share of women receiving short- and medium-term certificates (both requiring less than two years to complete) in STEM fields decreased by half between 2000–2001 and 2008–2009. A very small proportion of associate’s degrees in STEM fields are awarded to women of color, including African American women (3.3 percent); Hispanic women (2.2 percent); and Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander women (1.3 percent).
President Barack Obama has emphasized that higher education is key to preparing Americans for the jobs available in today’s economy, and the president’s 2013 budget proposal would provide $3 billion federally for STEM education, an increase of 2.6 percent over the current level. Addressing the needs of low-income women and student parents is integral to boosting the number of students pursuing higher education in the United States: almost four in ten postsecondary students are low-income (39.8 percent) and women make up the great majority (81 percent) of low-income students who are single parents.
“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. 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,” said Barbara Gault, Ph.D., Vice President and Executive Director of IWPR. Promising programs use active recruitment strategies to reach out to individuals who might not think of themselves pursuing STEM careers. Low-income women and student parents may require more intensive resources and academic supports to succeed in STEM fields at community colleges. Resources such as affordable child care and financial aid are essential to helping these students complete their education. Academic advising is also crucial for disadvantaged students who may be unfamiliar with how to successfully navigate the demands of college. Experts from promising programs around the country are
The report outlines recommendations for improving access to STEM programs for women, particularly low-income women attending community colleges, and provides snapshots of some of the most promising programs from across the country that target women.
A podcast featuring Cynthia Costello, the report author, is available to listeners for
. In the podcast, Costello explains how more women holding jobs in STEM fields would bring greater economic security to women and their families and improve the economic health of the nation as a whole. For more information, please visit
Institute for Women’s Policy Research
IWPR conducts rigorous research and disseminates its findings to address the needs of women and their families, promote public dialogue, and strengthen communities and societies. IWPR is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that also works in affiliation with the women’s studies and public policy programs at The George Washington University.