Female Students Are Just as Persistent as Men in Engineering, Database Shows

August 04, 2009

It may be hard to attract women into engineering, but keeping them there doesn't seem to be a problem.

That's the latest finding from a database of 70,000 engineering students at nine institutions in the southeastern United States tracked over a 17-year period ending in 2005.

The resource, called the Multiple-Institution Database for Investigating Engineering Development, is managed by Matthew W. Ohland, an associate professor of engineering education at Purdue University. The latest findings, accepted for publication in a future issue of the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, were derived by researchers at Purdue, the University of San Diego, and the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.

Only about 20 percent of undergraduate engineering students are women, Mr. Ohland said. But the database shows women aren't dropping out at any greater rate than men are, suggesting more efforts should be made in recruiting women into engineering than on trying to retain them.

Earlier research with the database suggested ways of working on that problem, such as making calculus part of a general college curriculum, thereby increasing the odds that a student in another major will later transfer into engineering.