Is the American education system successfully making information technology (IT) training more attractive to women? Or does looking at the data reveal that computer sciences remain a largely male sector of the economy? It depends what kind of training you look at — but overall, the data reinforces the need to put increased effort into opening computer sciences to women.
Computer Sciences — An Unexpectedly Shrinking Field
Despite the ever-increasing role of computers in modern life, the statistics on computer-related college degrees can be surprising. We already talked about the 11% drop in U.S. graduates from computer science-related degrees. And keying off of Catherine Rampell’s discovery that the number of female graduates was dropping even faster, we also looked into the labor market situation for women trying to get jobs in specific computer science occupations.
Rampell’s original article included the pivotal data point that while overall completions for computer science programs were down 11%, female completions were down a whopping 29%. With the business of looking at the jobs those completions lead to out of the way, we went back to break down the data on the actual completions.
Sure enough, EMSI’s data on male and female graduates, drawn from the National Center for Education Statistics, pointed to a severe decline in completions among women. To simplify the question, we focused on four of the most important programs within the rather broad category of computer sciences: computer and information sciences (general), information technology, computer science, and computer systems networking and telecommunications. We began by looking at the last 10 years, to see what percentage of completions in each year came from women:
Computer and Information Sciences, General
Computer and information services, general, has consistently been the program with the highest number of completions — almost 50,000 in 2003, but declining sharply to a little less than 24,000 in 2012. Unfortunately, while it also had the highest percentage of completions by women in 2003 (30.4%), that percentage has sunk with completions, declining to 20.1% in 2012 with women representing 4,789 of the 23,886 completions.
Computer Systems Networking and Technicians
Computer systems networking and technicians accounts for fewer completions than general computer science (19,819 in 2012, compared to 23,886). However, its completions have rebounded far better since 2008 than general computer science. Its 2003 and 2005 completions were both around 17,000, dipping to 12,269 in 2008. Since then, however, completions have exploded, up to 19,000. But while completions are up, the new graduates added since 2008 have been almost entirely male. In 2003, almost a quarter of completers were women. But that percentage has dropped every year since, with women representing only 2,700 of those 19,000 2013 completions — a measly 14%.
As for computer science completions — third verse, same as the first. The number of completions here is the most steady over the last 10 years, with only a decline of 5,000 from the high year (2004) to the low (2008). And, like computer systems networking and technicians, the number of completions in 2012 is higher than it was in 2003 (18,883 to 17,188), although slightly lower than 19,340 in 2004.
As for the number of women in this program, the percentage has remained stronger, but still declined steadily over the last 10 years. In 2003, women accounted for 24% of graduates, but aside from a small uptick after the recession that percentage has declined steadily since then. Women accounted for only 18.4% of completions in 2012.
Having looked at three of the four programs we included, we’re still looking for some good news for efforts to open up the tech trades to women. Fortunately, information technology programs are a bright spot. The smallest program of the four we studied, with only 14,995 completions in 2012, information technology has consistently seen a high percentage of female graduates, ranging up to a high near 30% in 2005. It’s also the only one of the four programs that saw a nationwide increase in its percentage of female completions, nudging upwards from 23.7% in 2003 to 24.5%.
Most intriguingly, it’s also increased both its total and female graduates significantly; both of them have increased by over 100% since 2003. The only worry is that the female portion of the completions has decreased slightly over the last three years. With the rapid growth of this program, however, it still seems like a success story for efforts to diversify high-tech education.
Schools Leading the Way
Looked at nationally, efforts to get women into traditionally male high-tech fields seem to be struggling. But that doesn’t leave out the possibility that specific schools are doing better work at diversifying their enrollment. We took the same four computer and IT educational programs and looked at data for which schools had the most female completions in 2012. Results are below.
With its enormous online reach, it’s not surprising that the University of Phoenix is the leader. Schools with a significant online presence may have an important role in helping women get into high-tech fields, as they offer a more flexible — and, potentially, more welcoming and less male-dominated — learning environment. It will be exciting to see the results that these efforts produce over the next few years.
Gender Distribution of Completions in Four Information Technology Educational Programs
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Data for this post came from Analyst, EMSI’s labor market research tool, as well as from the National Center for Education Statistics. For more information or to see similar data for a particular sector or region in College Analyst, a tool from EMSI and CareerBuilder, contact Rob Sentz. Follow EMSI on Twitter @DesktopEcon.