Percent of Bachelors going to Women: Not getting better among Computing Disciplines

May 11, 2012 at 8:36 am 10 comments

Lecia Barker shared some data at the recent PACE (Partnership for Advancing Computing Education) meeting, and she said I could share it here.  It’s from the IPEDS data, on the percentages of women graduating with undergraduate degrees in different majors.  Computer Science and Electrical Engineering are doing pretty badly here, but not as badly as Computer Engineering.  Information Systems was doing almost as well as Chemical Engineering, but is now diving.

Lecia gave me some explanatory text for this that I promised to share:

An important thing to note about the graph is that the “comp sci” data is from CIP* 11.0701, computer science, NOT 11.01, computer and information sciences, the general umbrella category. It makes a big difference, so some people may question whether the numbers are correct. And it’s really imperfect. Under the general category, a lot of other subcategories are included, besides computer science. However, a lot of computer science departments do not bother to report into the finer-grained 11.07 category (computer science), but instead just report into 11.01, general. So it’s really hard to sort out. The University of Texas and Georgia Tech CS depts both reports into the general 11.01 and not the specific — and they represent a lot of majors! I used 11.0701 in this graph because I think the number of entries for 11.0701 (7,929) is probably a large enough sample to represent the population of CS majors with a pretty good confidence interval, though I can’t say what the confidence interval is or what the population of CS-but-not-all-CIS is due to what I said above.

According to another data download, Georgia Tech graduated 13 women BS in all disciplines in 2011, by the way. That was 7% of all BS awarded at GT. (See below addition.)

*classification of instructional program

Addition:  I had several people question the GT data that Lecia sent me. I don’t know how to read the IPEDS data, but I can read GT’s stats:  GT graduated 925 females across all majors, which is 31%, which is comparable to the percentage of frosh females who enter GT. In Computing, we graduated 34 females in 2011 which is 14% of the total.  So, I don’t know if the IPEDS data are wrong, or if GT is reporting in different categories than Lecia was pulling from.

Second Addition:  Cameron Wilson shared some additional data with me, on the trends in women’s participation in CS across different degrees.  The actual Excel file he sent me (with permission to repost) can be found here.  The graph below tells the main story.  Series 1 is the number of female PhD graduates, Series 2 is the number of female MS graduates, and Series 3 is the number of female BS graduates.  The Excel file also provides US citizen vs. temporary residents.

Here’s a revised form, with the legend right:


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10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. ShuchiGrover  |  May 11, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    The graphs are telling! Frighteningly so. I wonder what it is exactly that has transpired between the late 80s and now to drive women away from these fields. It seems to me that this is a particularly US/Western phenomenon. There seem to be some very powerful and pervasive gender stereotypes at play here.

    By contrast, in India (where I did my undergrad studies in Physics and CS), disciplines have a distinct pecking order and students that sit for the very competitive exams for entry to Science & Engineering colleges largely opt for the best discipline they can be enrolled in based on that “status ranking” of disciplines. During my time, CS & EE used to be at the top, followed by Mechanical Engg. It does not look like much has changed there besides new entrants like BioEnginneering & BioInformatics that are also considered very hot engg disciplines now. Needless to say, this ranking is driven largely by the income-earning potential of graduates from these various disciplines. Hence the prized position of CS at the top of the food chain. Salaries and jobs trump everything else there – it’s a system driven strictly by economics..

  • 2. ShuchiGrover  |  May 11, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    I omitted to add that that pecking order held for both males and females especially with regard to CS & EE, although mechanical and civil engineering have probably never enjoyed much favor with females there.

  • 3. nickfalkner  |  May 11, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    I’m working on some national level projects here, as you know, on identity and professional presence so that we can increase our intake across all areas of ICT and, by increasing awareness of what we do and the value of it, hopefully make some inroads into this demographic nightmare.

    The approach we’re taking is “no more silos”, so no more IS vs CS vs IT vs EE vs CSE – no more My Uni vs Your Uni. If we increase awareness and the perception of the profession, at the same time as we improve the profession as well, the evidence I’ve seen indicates that we should start getting more women in and completing. Of course, one step further in no more silos is making this an international initiative, a global commitment to looking at figures like this and saying “No more. Let’s do better.”

    Thanks, Mark. A great post and really informative.

    • 4. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  May 14, 2012 at 12:30 pm

      I don’t understand the “no more silos” comment. Is the claim being made that EE and IT are the same field and students in each should have the same training? That can’t be right. Is it that there should be one mega-department that tries to be all things to all majors? That is unworkable also. What exactly do you mean, Nick, by “no more silos”?

      • 5. nickfalkner  |  May 14, 2012 at 5:48 pm

        Hi, no, it’s not about receiving the same training – it’s about accepting the similarities and working together when possible. Here, we have some schools where IS, IT, EE and CS don’t talk, even when they should over common content or aligned content.

        I’m not proposing that EE and IT are the same thing, but that they do have intersections, especially in educational aspects. Educational techniques that work in one, related and similar area, should spread to another area without the degree of insularity we’re seeing here at the moment. Critical evaluation of fitness? Sure. Kneejerk reject because it comes from CS or IS or EE? Not so much.

        Thanks for the opportunity to clarify – does that help?

        • 6. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  May 14, 2012 at 6:10 pm

          Yes, that clarifies things a bit. Here we have 4 departments that teach computery things: computer science (which has a BS, BA, and minor in CS, and a game design major), computer engineering (which has a BS, minor, and a networks and digital tech BA and runs the interdisciplinary robotics major), electrical engineering (BS and minor), and biomolecular engineering (which has a bioinformatics BS and minor and runs the interdisciplinary bioengineering major).
          There is a fair amount of cooperation between the departments, with almost no duplication of courses.
          Every major requires several courses from other departments.
          There are distinct differences in pedagogic style between departments, with computer engineering being the most “hands-on” department, and EE being the most theoretical. These differences in style drive more of the teaching conflicts than any difference in which department someone belongs to.
          There is some fighting about how to start students off, with computer engineering and EE favoring a bottom-up approach with C and machine architecture first, computer
          science favoring a Java-first approach, and bioinformatics favoring a Python-first approach.
          sscience favoring a Java-first approach, and bioinformatics

          • 7. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  May 14, 2012 at 6:11 pm

            Sorry about the mess—when comments get too long, the WordPress comment editor has trouble in Firefox.

  • 8. Bri Morrison  |  May 12, 2012 at 10:36 am

    So, this makes me wonder. Biology and Chemistry are over 50% women. Are academics in those two fields concerned about trying to draw more males? I certainly get the need and reason for drawing more females into computing. But I do wonder if there is an analogous situation in other majors trying to draw males. Nursing? Education? Just wondering if there’s anything to be learned from looking at the problem from a different angle.

    • 9. Mark Guzdial  |  May 13, 2012 at 4:14 pm

      It’s a great question! I don’t know if Biology and Chemistry are hurting for people, so tapping into more males may not be an advantage. Nursing — maybe!

  • […] all the efforts of NSF BPC programs, the number of women graduating with undergraduate degrees in computing is not rising. Now, Reuters reports that the number of women in top technology positions has dropped […]


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