Percent of women graduates BS in CS: National, UW, GT

March 7, 2013 at 9:26 am 11 comments

In the context of David Notkin’s receipt of the 2013 Computing Research Association A. Nico Habermann Award for outstanding contributions to supporting underrepresented groups in the computing research community, Lecia Barker of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (we hosted their Washington State Awards for Aspirations in Computing last weekend) sent us the chart to the right, comparing UW CSE’s performance to the national average in granting bachelors degrees to women.

via UW CSE News » Women in Computer Science: UW CSE is a pacesetter.

It was really great to see these results in the U. Washington CSE News, but it got me to wondering: Did all the big R1 institutions rise like this, or was this unusual at UW?  I decided to generate the GT data, too.

I went to the GT Self-Service Institutional Research page and downloaded the degrees granted by college and gender in each of 2005, 2006, and on up to 2011.  (All separate spreadsheets.)  I added up Fall, Spring, and Summer graduates for each year, and computed the female percentage.  Here’s all three data sets graphed.  While GT hasn’t risen as dramatically as UW in the last two years (so UW really has done something remarkable!), but GT’s rise from 2005 far below the national average to above the national average in 2009 is quite interesting.

Why is UW having such great results?  Ed Lazowska claimed at SIGCSE 2013 that it’s because they have only a single course sequence (“one course does fit all,” he insisted) and because they have a large number of female TAs.  I don’t believe that.  I predict that more courses would attract more students (see the “alternative paths” recommendation from Margolis and Fisher), and that female TA’s support retention, not recruitment.  I suspect that UW’s better results have more to do with the fact that GT’s students declare their major on their application form, while UW students have to apply to enter the CSE program.  Thus, (a) UW has the chance to attract students on-campus and (b) they have more applications than slots, so they can tune their acceptances to get the demographics that they value.

20052006200720082009	2010	2011 National 	17	15	13	12	12	12	13 U. Washington	21	18	18	19	21	21	28 Georgia Tech	8.802816901	7.441860465	8.791208791	12.15469613	13.92405063	11.65048544	14.34599156

Percentage of females in BS CS graduates, by year, nationally, for U. Washington, and for Georgia Tech.

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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  March 7, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    GT requires declaring a major on the application form for undergrads? That sounds both bad and a bit crazy …

  • 2. Ed Lazowska  |  March 7, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    Thanks for the free publicity!

  • 3. Hélène Martin  |  March 12, 2013 at 1:51 am

    Note that it’s illegal in Washington state to use demographics in admissions so we don’t do it!

    • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  March 12, 2013 at 9:43 am

      Thanks, Hélène. Do you know what the admissions criteria are for the CSE program? It’s not the case that everyone who applies gets in, right? We don’t have a program admissions level at GT, and I’m interested in what role that level of vetting plays at UW.

      • 5. Hélène Martin  |  March 12, 2013 at 1:02 pm

        There are several paths into the major. For direct admissions from high school, we primarily look at GPA and standardized test scores. Students get invited to apply for accelerated admissions if they’re in the top few percent of CS2. We expect those students to have high grades in all their classes. Most students get in through upper-division admission which is based on grades in pre-requisite courses and a personal statement ( There is no firm grade cutoff but our majors tend to have 3.3s and above these days (B+).

        Keep in mind that the university is not as selective as a lot of other places.

  • 6. Hélène Martin  |  March 12, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    Not to beat a dead horse, but I think there are lots of reasons a single introductory path would help with demographics. In particular, a lot of our young women fall in love with computing in our CS1. There’s a very clear path for them into the major so they don’t have the added excuse of “oh, I’m on a non-majors path, now.” We’re very careful about making the intro courses predictable and consistent so students know what to expect from their friends’ experiences. It’s a lot harder to do that with several starting courses. Having a single CS1 also means our CS2 can be tightly organized as a follow-up course. No one feels like they didn’t learn a particular concept or didn’t have a particular learning experience.

    Many girls also mention that having female TAs gets them thinking that they can be in computing, too. I think you would agree that role models help with recruiting and our TAs are really role models that spend time with students every week.

    • 7. Mark Guzdial  |  March 12, 2013 at 2:11 pm

      “Our findings regarding the disparity between the average levels of computing experience of men and women, and its effect on their confidence, echo observations by Janet Schofield. She concludes in her ethnographic study of computer usage in a Midwestern high school that course offerings “must effectively compensate for the likely initial disparity in prior experience between male and female students…that tend to reinforce pre-existing differences in interest and expertise by discouraging many girls from seeking out opportunities to use computers.” [4, p. 163] Accordingly, we designed multiple points of entry into the Camegie Mellon computer science curriculum that allow students with widely varying levels of experience to enter courses with appropriate prerequisites, and to end up “in the same place” with only small variations in schedule, and ample time to complete graduation requirements. These changes increased levels of satisfaction among both more and less experienced students of both genders, and indeed seem to result in the smooth integration of the less experienced into the remainder of the curriculum.” Fisher & Margolis, 2002.

      We found similar results in our comparison between Media Computation and our TeachScheme-based course. In particular, our experience echoes the points that Fisher & Margolis made in 2002 about “Curriculum: Computing in Context.”

      You offer a reasonable and rational argument, Hélène. The empirical evidence suggests something else. In the CMU study, and in the two MediaComp studies that I’m linking to above, we’re finding evidence that people are more likely to succeed in CS with multiple paths.

      • 8. Hélène Martin  |  March 12, 2013 at 9:57 pm

        I agree that CS courses can become toxic environments when students who have played with computers all their lives have an advantage over those who haven’t. But I don’t think multiple paths is the only way to mitigate that. For example, we heavily value internal correctness and program style in our courses. It turns out that a lot of self-taught programmers are at a disadvantage on those things. Novices feel empowered when they master them faster than their experienced peers.

        I think you’ve done phenomenal work with media computation and there’s no doubt in my mind that media-based projects are motivating and pedagogically sound. I think you have a lot of evidence to support that. But I have difficulty making the leap from that to saying that multiple entry points are a must. Maybe it would be even better if everyone went through a media-computation-based CS1. CMU absolutely saw improvements after adding multiple entry points but that was combined with several other interventions. They’re also a very different school than we are.

        I’m not saying that having multiple entry points is bad, but I don’t feel confident that it’s the right choice everywhere or even that it’s the source of your success or CMU’s. I think we have a fair amount of evidence that a single path has been an asset in our context or at least that it hasn’t hurt us significantly (I think the numbers can speak for that!).

        • 9. Mark Guzdial  |  March 13, 2013 at 9:24 am

          I don’t think that multiple paths are the only way to mitigate the problem. I do think that they have been shown to work. I don’t believe that heavy emphasis on internal correctness and program style works.

          I ENCOURAGE you to prove me wrong. Your numbers are great, and you have an argument for what’s causing them, and I have a counter-argument for what’s causing them. Do a careful study! Write the paper to show why you have great numbers, and thus, help the rest of the CS Ed community know how to replicate your results!

          • 10. alanone1  |  March 13, 2013 at 9:58 am

            It would be interesting to see how these contrasts could be resolved by a study.

            Another way to look at it is that the amount of subjectivity in details of style might be too fine grained.

            For example, when I ask people to think about several teachers who have really affected them positively, and ask if they all had the same approach, the answer has almost always been “no” (worthy of a study right here).

            Among the most interesting teachers are “effective bastards”. Some of them really are, and some are “just bastards” (and of course subjectivity and matchups obtain here also).

            Emotionally, I’m completely with Hélène for the very same reasons that I think every student should be required to take an Intro to Anthropology, and a comprehensive “Western Civ” course early in their college career.

            Great versions of these courses will be of value to everyone — including the professors and grad students — because they deal with fundamental issues as opposed to simple techniques. They are also an opportunity to help students with the idea of “cooperation” as being much more powerful than “competition” (universities are usually completely stupid and dunce-headed about this).

            One of the ideas here is that these early courses are prerequisites in learning how to think about important ideas and issues, and are not (and shouldn’t be) just prerequisites for the next class in a department.

            So, for example, a simple minded early CS course that is about simple minded programming or one that is about more advance programming, helps almost no one. The big issues in computing have to do with systems, scaling, integrity, reformulation, etc., and it is possible to do an early class that orbits around these ideas with the programming that is learned in its proper place in the large scheme of things.

            I’ve used this analogy in the past, but it just came to mind again. The great organist E Power Biggs had to go on a tour and his assistant organist asked him about a immense French piece that he would have to play on the completely inadequate tiny instrument at their disposal. He asked Biggs what he should do, and Biggs said “Just play it Grand!”

            It’s the grandeur of our field that needs to be presented really well early on. It may be that most colleges and universities are now such vocational training institutions and so totally hide-bound to single department disciplines that they can’t see or do this any more.

            But we should be pushing them every step of the way to get back to real Education!

  • […] a sad posting.  It’s particularly sad because it’s 10 years after “Unlocking the Clubhouse.”  Really?  Haven’t we figured out how to do this any better […]


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