Panel Paper: Increasing Diversity in the STEM Workforce: Access to Innovative Online Graduate Education As a Solution?

Friday, November 9, 2018
8229 - Lobby Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Quintin Kreth, Julia Melkers, Jillian Lee Stevens and Isabel Ruthotto, Georgia Institute of Technology

One of the most pressing challenges in science policy today is improving the diversity of the scientific community (Corbett & Hill, 2015; NAS & NAE, 2007). In STEM careers, and particularly in computer science, women are traditionally underrepresented (Fox & Kline, 2016). Further, the pipeline to increase diversity in the workforce in computing is in decline, among both women and minorities. In 2014, only 18% of computer science BS recipients and 29% of MS recipients were women, declining from 25% and 31% in 2004, respectively (NSF, 2017). Efforts to address underrepresentation in STEM have addressed many factors that matter in attracting women to these disciplines (Fox, Sonnert, & Nikiforova, 2011). However, this is a complex challenge, posing important implications for policies aimed at strengthening the US STEM workforce. Directly addressing the needs of the labor market, programs to provide graduate education in computing are growing (Hanover Research, 2014), in both traditional and online computing degree programs. New and innovative curricular programs hold the potential to expand access to high-quality STEM education for those that have been traditionally excluded from these fields. Sharp increases in available jobs requiring computing expertise may also result in a growth in individuals who had not considered computing as a career path initially turning to graduate and other programs to change careers. With a rapidly growing labor market for careers in computing, attention to diversity in graduate education is critical, yet under-examined in existing research. Simply creating programs is not sufficient to address representation. Among the many challenges facing women’s interest and ability to succeed in male-dominated disciplines/fields (Fox, 2006; NAS & NAE, 2007), issues of efficacy/confidence are especially salient (Goh, Ogan, Ahuja, Herring, & Robinson, 2007), and remain relevant to new program initiatives.

Informed by studies of women in science and computing, as well as the adapted Social-Cognitive Career Theory [SCCT] (Lent, Ezeofor, Morrison, Penn, & Ireland, 2016), we examine differences in career-related motivation and related efficacy among students pursuing an online master’s degree, and how it differs by gender and gender/age combined. Growing online education opportunities are of particular interest, since they also raise the question of whether gender differences in efficacy are less evident in the online environment. Data are drawn from a survey of almost 1,000 students in the Georgia Tech Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMSCS) program, recognized as a major innovation in computing education. Described by President Obama as an “innovative [way] to increase value,” this online degree program is identical to the conventional MS program at a significantly lower cost, and has attracted a large number of adult students (>7,000 currently enrolled since 2014). Preliminary evidence suggests that women may be using the OMSCS program to transition into careers in computer science, demonstrating that there may be new avenues for increasing the diversity in the field. Results address gender differences in efficacy and career interests among students. Policy implications for educational programming and support for adult students in STEM are provided.