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Women falling behind in STEM bachelor’s degrees

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Well, this is a bit discouraging:

A new report from the National Student Clearinghouse looks at degrees in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) and finds that the share of STEM bachelor’s degrees going to women ticked down over the past decade. The biggest decline was in computer science, where women received 23 percent of bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2004 and just 18 percent in 2014. On the bright side — at least for career prospects — both men and women are slightly more likely to be majoring in STEM fields today than they were in 2004; it’s just that men have shown more growth than women.

Even so, there have been many efforts over the past decade to attract more women to STEM majors, which tend to endow their graduates with higher earning potential than other areas of study do. These data suggest that the programs have by and large disappointed.

There are some big success stories, of course: Harvey Mudd College revamped its computer science intro course, sponsors female undergrads at an annual women-in-computing conference and introduced some other interventions to attract more women into the field. Women now comprise nearly half of its computer science majors, according to a Bloomberg article last year. Lots of educators I’ve spoken with about the STEM gender gap cite Harvey Mudd as a role model.

It’s not clear, though, how well Harvey Mudd’s model will translate to other colleges, given that Harvey Mudd — while considering itself a liberal arts school — focuses explicitly on engineering, science and mathematics. One major obstacle that seems to be keeping women out of STEM fields more generally is the fact that humanities departments tend to grade more leniently, and compared with men women seem to really hate getting B’s. Those same kinds of grading differentials may be less present, or less salient, at a school where everyone has to major in math, science or engineering.