Public Release: 

S&E Degrees To Women, Minorities On The Rise, Math Achievement 'Gender Gap' Is Gone

National Science Foundation

The number and proportion of women and minorities enrolled and earning undergraduate and graduate science and engineering [S&E] degrees continues to increase, while the number of white men doing so is decreasing, according to a National Science Foundation [NSF] report released today to Congress.

Between 1982 and 1994, the percentages of black, Hispanic and American Indian students taking many basic and advanced mathematics courses doubled.

And the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP] mathematics assessment results showed that the "gender gap" in mathematics achievement has, for the most part, disappeared, says Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 1998, a report by NSF's Division of Science Resources Studies [SRS].

Despite these gains, women, minorities, and persons with disabilities remain underrepresented in science and engineering fields, said the ninth in a series of Congressionally mandated reports on the status of women and minorities in science and engineering. The report for 1996 spurred U.S. Rep. Connie Morella [R-MD] to sponsor a bill establishing a "Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology Development."

The bill became Public Law 105-255, and the Commission held its first meeting April 14. At that meeting, NSF Director Rita Colwell said the Commission has a "vital" role in achieving a collective goal of crafting "a new strategy and a new direction for human resource development in science and engineering."

Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 1998 documents both short- and long-term trends in science and engineering education and employment. It does not endorse or recommend any policies or programs. Among its findings:

  • Asians were 3 percent of the population, and 10 percent of the S&E workforce in 1995. Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians made up 23 percent of the population, but only 6 percent of the S&E workforce.

  • Students with disabilities take fewer science and mathematics courses, have lower grades and achievement scores, and are more likely to drop out of school than students without disabilities.

  • Women scientists and engineers are more likely than men to be employed in computer or mathematical sciences, life sciences and social sciences; and less likely to be managers if they work in business. Women Ph.D. scientists and engineers are more likely to work at elementary and secondary schools and two year colleges, and less likely than men to be tenured.

  • The percentage of disabled scientists and engineers out of the workforce is three times those without disabilities. Working scientists and engineers with disabilities perform the same type of work as those without disabilities, and earn virtually the same salary.

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