The challenge of retaining women in computing: The 2016 Taulbee Survey: Supplementary Report on Course-level Enrollment

September 18, 2017 at 7:00 am 4 comments

The Computing Research Association (CRA) has just released a supplement to their 2016 Taulbee Survey report.  They now are collecting individual course data, which gives them more fine-grained numbers about who is entering the major, who is retained until mid-level, and who makes it to the upper-level.  Previously, they mostly just had enrollment and graduation data.  These new data give them new insights.  For example, we are getting more women and URM in computing, but we are not retaining them all.

Except in the introductory course for non-majors, the median percentage of women in courses at each level was either fairly constant or increasing [from previous years]. The most notable increase was in the mid-level course, where the median percentage of women went from 17.4 in 2015 to 20.0 in 2016. The median percentage of women in the upper-level course also increased, from 14.1 to 15.9 percent. We see a slight drop-off from the median percentage of women in the introductory course for majors in 2015 (21.0 percent) to the median percentage of women in the mid-level course in 2016 (20.0 percent), and a somewhat larger drop-off between the median percentage of women in the mid-level course in 2015 (17.4 percent) and the median percentage of women in the upper-level course in 2016 (15.9 percent).  Because the median percentage at each level is for a single representative course, not for all students at that level, some of the differences between levels may be attributable to the specific courses on which the institutions chose to report. Overall, however, this trend of decreasing representation of women at higher course levels is congruent with other data.

Source: The 2016 Taulbee Survey: Supplementary Report on Course-level Enrollment – CRA

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  September 18, 2017 at 7:17 am

    Which combination of the “5-10” pretty poor things in today’s computing are they and the males rejecting? Are they similar?

    This could be along the lines of taste. It would be much more interesting if a significant percentage are reacting against some of the really good things in computing (some places somewhere will teach some of these) …

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  September 20, 2017 at 11:39 am

      Hi Alan,

      I don’t know of qualitative work that could answer that question. This is all quantitative. It’s a good question — why do we lose the students that we lose?

  • 3. Stu Zweben  |  September 18, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    As the authors of the cited report, we’d like to point out that our data does not entitle one to conclude that we are retaining men and women differently in our CS programs. Differential retention of men and women may be contributing to the data, but even if it is, it may not be the whole story. Our report explains that the majors of the students in the mid-level and upper-level courses from which the data were provided are not necessarily CS. The blue bars in the graph show the percentage of majors in the courses at each level; from them, it is clear that there is a sizable fraction of students who are not CS majors in these courses, and that fraction shrinks considerably as one goes from intro to mid-level to upper-level. The majors (or intended majors) from which these non-CS majors come likely have highly variable requirements in computing and variable amount of room in their programs for students to take additional computing as a pure elective. These majors also may attract highly variable percentages of women regardless of their computing requirements. We don’t know this level of detail from our study. While retention of computing majors certainly is one possible explanation for the drop-off in the fraction of women from the intro level in one year to the mid-level in the following year, and from the mid-level one year to the upper-level the following year, it is only one possible explanation.

    We are hopeful that data like ours will encourage programs to look more deeply into their own situation, and if there indeed is a retention issue, take steps to counteract it. We share the goal of increased diversity in our field.

    Stu Zweben and Betsy Bizot


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