Sexual discrimination and women’s retention rates in science and engineering programs

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University of Illinois Press


Despite some evidence that women entering science, mathematics and engineering have higher average ACT and SAT test scores, women's persistence rates remain considerably lower than those of their male peers. Persistence rates, in turn, are correlated with low science grades during the first two years of undergraduate study. This finding begs the question of what causes such a decrease in science ability among talented young women during their freshman and sophomore years, women who tend not to drop out of college, but to switch majors. Since scholastic ability does not predict attrition, research is needed to discover what it is about the experience of science education that might cause talented young women to question their ability to succeed and their desire to remain in science. This paper, which focuses on undergraduate and graduate women's experiences in science and engineering programs, reveals that sexual discrimination continues to be a significant problem in science education, a problem that is often underestimated because of a variety of cultural myths. It asserts that initiatives to increase the numbers of women in science and engineering, which fail to address this problem, will not realize their desired outcomes.