« Starting strong, ending stronger | Blog Main | Do you have any real life engineering applications/examples? »

I'm sorry I'm sorry really I'm sorry

So when we were last in touch, I had just finished the Tufts 10K and that was, gasp, almost two weeks ago. You must have thought the race had killed me. It didn't really. It's just the next morning I went to New York and spent the week interviewing some amazing students at Hunter and NYU Medical School, came home for about 30 hours and then flew to Kentucky to observe in a school all of last week.

I know that is no excuse. They have wireless in NYC and yes in the Super 8 Motel in Brandenburg, KY (hey Tom and I live large when we travel). But I am back and here is one of the things I was supposed to write about while I was gone.

Nature vs Nurture-- whoops this time it's that other ongoing fight-- recruitment vs retention as being the reason why there are so few women in engineering. FairerScience friends Clemencia Cosentino de Cohen and Nicole Deterding have published a new study that found

that overall and in most disciplines there is no differential attrition by gender. Instead, results suggest that gender disparities in engineering are largely driven by inadequate enrollment (not inadequate retention) of women.

This is good news folks, 20-25 years ago there were differences in retention rates and women tended to drop out more often than men (even when they came in more academically prepared). Clemencia and Nicole did a nice job. And of course I have some thoughts. The first thought is to thank all those WIE folks out there for making such a difference. The second that between freshman and sophomore years the retention rate for engineering students is 67%-- that is unacceptably low.

My third thought is yes we need to focus on recruitment but that doesn't mean that we are home free in terms of women's retention. I'm reminded of daughter's Kathryn's honor's analysis class where like maybe 35 young men enrolled and 15 finished; while 7 young women enrolled and 5 finished. I was impressed that women had a much higher retention rate. Kathryn pointed out that I was wrong--women's retention rates were much lower; I just wasn't counting all the women who weren't retained in math long enough to even enroll. .


So, are de Cohen and Deterding saying that the work of Seymour and Hewitt is essentially null and void at this point? We can just forgot all that stuff about retention from now on????? At the freshman to sophomore transition point, anyway, is that the conclusion? Inquiring minds want to clarify...

Hi Zuska

While there are differences in different fields, in general women students are being retained in engineering in percentages equal to men or in some fields slightly higher rates. Clemencia and Nicole didn't go into student reasons for leaving engineering, neither did they look at the academic or other characteristics of those who left and those who stayed.

The press has picked up that "don't worry about retention" thing and that scares me. As I tried to make clear but was too subtle (me subtle go figure), a lack of sex differences in retention doesn't mean that there aren't issues in retention. Too while the retention rates are comparable, the women students started with more academic preparation, so you would expect them to be more likely to be retained.

We're making progress but we still have a way to go

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)