Project funded under the NSF Division of Engineering Education and Centers
In order to meet the growing demand for a larger technological and scientific labor force in the United States, it is critical to broaden participation in the science and engineering fields. Previous research has found numerous barriers to the participation of women and underrepresented minorities in engineering fields, including the climate of schools and classrooms, academic achievement and academic preparation, self-confidence, and career goals (e.g., see Geisinger and Raman, 2013). One factor that has not been studied to the same extent as other topics is how the structure of the college engineering education system in the state relates to the diversity of students who graduate with engineering degrees.
In this study, we help fill this important knowledge gap by studying how the diversity college student engineering participation relates to (1) the diversity of institutions that have engineering programs, and (2) the geographic distribution of colleges in a state.
First, we use national data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) maintained by the U.S. Department of Education on all graduates from four-year colleges and universities in all 50 states over the past ten years. First, we compute an engineering degree production concentration index for each state and year, which measures the extent to which engineering degrees are concentrated at a limited number or wide variety of postsecondary institutions. We then use regression analysis to analyze cross-state and within-state, over time variation in the concentration of engineering degree production with the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of the students that earn engineering degrees in the state. Preliminary findings indicate that engineering graduates are less diverse in states that contain only a few schools at which students get degrees.
Second, we use comprehensive administrative data from the Missouri Department of Higher Education to understand whether and how the distance students must travel to attend a college with an engineering program relates to their probability of earning an engineering degree. The sample includes all students who graduated from a public high school and matriculated to a public 4-year college in Missouri between 1996 and 2015. In the state, over 90% of engineering graduates come from just two colleges, located in the center of the state. However, the majority of high school graduates who identify as a racial or ethnic minority live in or near the edges of the state. This disconnect is likely to affect students’ college choices, and in turn, decisions whether to study engineering. Preliminary findings from regression analyses indicate that greater distances traveled predicts a lower likelihood of college success and engineering outcomes, even after controlling for a variety of student-level academic factors and high school-level characteristics.
This work advances the literature by identifying the extent to which the structure of the college engineering education system within a state relates to the diversity of the students that earn engineering degrees.
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