2021 CoNECD

Geographical Inequities in Accessing Engineering and Computer Science: A State-wide Analysis of Undergraduate Enrollments Across High Schools

Presented at CoNECD Session : Day 1 Slot 7 Technical Session 4

Despite continued investments in recruitment and outreach initiatives, undergraduate engineering still lacks representation from broad segments of the population, some of which are among the fastest growing demographics in the United States. As Walter Lee recently argued in his Journal of Engineering Education editorial on the use of metaphors within the broadening participation literature, when an education or work system is the aim of an inquiry, a pipeline paradigm is an appropriate grounding because it demonstrates “ways in which participants are acted upon by a surrounding system and have little agency to change their course” (Lee , 2018, p. 10). Our investigation focuses at the macro-scale and investigates broad inequities in access to engineering, recognizing there are many variables that do not occur randomly but rather are systematically interconnected with one another.

Students’ high school contexts (representing a system) theoretically should relate to their academic major choice, but little research has focused on this connection. Thinking holistically at a high school level in a systems analysis combines variables, such as course offerings, extra-curricular activities, peer environment, and access to well-informed guidance counselors and teachers, that influence how students prepare for college. Using a state longitudinal data system, in this session we will take a macroscopic, systems view of one state’s population of high school-to-postsecondary students to understand variation in how graduating students enroll in engineering across each public high school. We will explore how that engineering enrollment rate varies across high schools for different demographic characteristics, including sex, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. At its core, this paper illuminates inequality in enrollment in engineering programs at four-year institutions across high schools and depicts how variables systematically related to high school context or geography (i.e., place-based characteristics) can act in combination to impose a restrictive pipeline on access.
Specifically, our session will address the following research questions:

RQ1: What is the geographic variation in four-year undergraduate engineering enrollment across Virginia’s high schools as a function of sex, race/ethnicity, and economically disadvantaged status?
RQ2: What is the relationship between characteristics of the high school and community contexts and undergraduate engineering enrollment across Virginia’s high schools?

The session will aim to use project data to spur conversations among attendees about systemically linked variables related to broadening participation that can be tied to high schools. We will provide evidence to support two main messages:

1) Taking a macro-scale, systemic perspective to educational research is important for understanding pressing issues related to broadening participation in engineering and computer science.

2) If we want the system to change, we believe the field needs to move beyond “just” research—we should work with appropriate stakeholders to identify pragmatic implementation ideas based on that research.

  1. Kai Jun Chew Virginia Tech [biography]
  2. Ms. Michelle D. Klopfer Virginia Tech
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For those interested in:

  • Advocacy and Policy
  • Broadening Participation in Engineering and Engineering Technology
  • Pre-College
  • computer science
  • engineering
  • gender
  • race/ethnicity
  • Socio-Economic Status
  • undergraduate