Gender, College Dropout, and the “Structural Characteristics” of STEM Majors

Kimberlee A. Shauman, University of California, Davis

This paper engages with the structural explanation for the female advantage in college academic achievements by examining gender differences in the educational destinations of students who transition out of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) majors. It addresses the question: are the elevated rates of non-completion observed in STEM majors intrinsic to the structure of those majors, or do they reflect the aggregate educational behavior of men who are disproportionately concentrated in those majors? Prior studies of attrition from STEM have neither disaggregated nor tested for gender differences in the two ways students leave STEM majors -- remaining in college but switching to a non-STEM major, or leaving postsecondary education altogether. Using a unique data source that includes detailed enrollment, major, course-taking, and achievement information for multiple cohorts of postsecondary students, I examine gender differences in the rates, timing, and correlates of the two general exit-routes from STEM majors.

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Presented in Session 13: Gender, Higher Education, and STEM Fields