Improving Access to STEM Education for Women

A panel of experts will meet this afternoon in Washington today to discuss ways to improve access to STEM education for women. The number of women pursuing associate’s degrees in the fields of science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM) has been declining. Meanwhile, the number of jobs in these typically higher-paying fields is expected to grow at nearly double the rate of others until 2018. A new report (click to download) from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR)Increasing Opportunities for Low-Income Women and Student Parents in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math at Community Colleges, offers recommendations for improving access to STEM education for low-income women. Author of the report, Cindy Costello, will share findings at today’s meeting and provide recommendations on expanding women’s access to careers in STEM fields.

“Investing in STEM education for low-income women and student parents is a win-win strategy,” said Cynthia Costello, author of the report. “It strengthens the economic security of American families, and expands the number of highly-skilled STEM workers to make the nation more competitive in the 21st century.”

The panel will also discuss student experiences, current policy initiatives, labor market demand for women in STEM occupations, and the steps currently being taken in model programs across the country to increase the proportion of low-income women and student parents in STEM programs.

Today’s expert panelists include:

  • Roberto J. Rodriguez, Special Assistant to President Barack Obama for White House Education Policy
  • Cynthia Costello, Ph.D., is a consultant and the author of IWPR’s report. Dr. Costello has held senior leadership positions at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the Radcliffe Public Policy Institute/Harvard University, the Women’s Research and Education Institute, and Families USA.
  • Karen Wosczyna-Birch, Ph.D., Executive Director, Regional Center for Next Generation Manufacturing (RCNGM), Connecticut Community Colleges
  • A student parent enrolled in RCNGM program
  • Pamela Brown, Ph.D., Program Director, Division of Undergraduate Education, National Science Foundation
  • Moderator: Barbara Gault, Ph.D., Vice President and Executive Director, The Institute for Women’s Policy Research

Analysis of data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) found the share of women receiving short- and medium-term certificates (both requiring less than two years to complete) in STEM fields decreased by half between 2000–2001 and 2008–2009. A very small proportion of associate’s degrees in STEM fields are awarded to women of color, including African American women (3.3 percent); Hispanic women (2.2 percent); and Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander women (1.3 percent).

President Barack Obama has emphasized that higher education is key to preparing Americans for the jobs available in today’s economy, and the president’s 2013 budget proposal would provide $3 billionfederally for STEM education, an increase of 2.6 percent over the current level. Addressing the needs of low-income women and student parents is integral to boosting the number of students pursuing higher education in the United States: almost four in ten postsecondary students are low-income (39.8 percent) and women make up the great majority (81 percent) of low-income students who are single parents.

“As the nation works to improve access to community college credentials, it is critical that women and people of color have equal access to high quality degrees, such as those in STEM fields, that lead to family-sustaining wages.  A number of exciting programs around the country are working to break those gender and race divides, and their techniques can serve as a model for other community colleges that want to equalize enrollment in STEM programs,” said Barbara Gault, Ph.D., Vice President and Executive Director of IWPR. Promising programs use active recruitment strategies to reach out to individuals who might not think of themselves pursuing STEM careers. Low-income women and student parents may require more intensive resources and academic supports to succeed in STEM fields at community colleges. Resources such as affordable child care and financial aid are essential to helping these students complete their education. Academic advising is also crucial for disadvantaged students who may be unfamiliar with how to successfully navigate the demands of college.  Experts from promising programs around the country are available for comment.

The report outlines recommendations for improving access to STEM programs for women, particularly low-income women attending community colleges, and provides snapshots of some of the most promising programs from across the country that target women.

A podcast featuring Cynthia Costello, the report author, is available to listeners for download . In the podcast, Costello explains how more women holding jobs in STEM fields would bring greater economic security to women and their families and improve the economic health of the nation as a whole. For more information, please visit

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) conducts rigorous research and disseminates its findings to address the needs of women and their families, promote public dialogue, and strengthen communities and societies. IWPR is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization that also works in affiliation with the women’s studies and public policy programs at The George Washington University.

The Student Parent Success Initiative (SPSI), a project of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, is designed to improve supports and services for student parents seeking postsecondary education. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, SPSI serves to initiate new research, raise awareness on the need for student parent supports, and foster communication and collaboration among advocates, policymakers, educators, and practitioners.

Source: Institute for Women’s Policy Research

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