Friday, June 08, 2007

Women in engineering: Data for MIT

Undergraduate Enrollment (Fall 2006)

* 764 students
* 38% women

Graduate Enrollment (Fall 2005)

* 890 students
* 20% women
* 4% underrepresented minorities (as of Fall 2005)

These pieces of data are for MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS). This is from this page, which I discovered through the excellent blog of MIT alumna and Lehigh professor Aurelie Thiele.

From the same page, we also learn this:

... [EECS's] three undergraduate programs traditionally have attracted over 30% of all MIT undergraduates ...

From another webpage, we learn that women will form 46 percent of the incoming class this year. This is for all of MIT, not just for EECS. [Thanks to my colleague U. Ramamurty for the pointer.]

[You may recall a similar figure -- nearly 40 percent -- for the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon as well, which was covered in a NYTimes story. We discussed a part of it in this post.]

In discussions of gender disparity in US universities, much of the talk revolves around SAT scores -- in particular, the mathematics part of this test (SAT-M). Let me cite a couple of sites about MIT's own studies on the gender differences in SAT-M scores and their correlation with the students' performance in undergraduate courses:

One of my faculty colleagues, whose daughter was applying to MIT-thank God for daughters-, did a study of whether admissions performance measures -primarily the math SAT--actually predicted the academic performance of students, not just as freshman but throughout their undergraduate careers. He did this differentially for men and women and got some surprising and very important results. He found that women outperform their predictions. That is, that women perform better as students than their math SAT scores would predict. The effective predictive gap is about 30 points.

Thus the conditions were set to change admissions criteria for women in a major way. The criteria for math SAT for women was changed to reflect the results of the study. In one year, the percentage of women students in the entering class went from 26 to 38%... [link]

Here's another:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology performed a study on women's course loads and compared their grades with their SAT scores and found that ``women hold their own across subject areas, even though their SAT scores are lower" (Rowe, 23). To compensate for the underprediction based on SAT scores, MIT adjusted its admission process to give greater weight to other criteria. Since 1980, the women admitted to MIT score an average of 20 to 25 points lower on the math sections of the SAT but have had higher cumulative grade-point averages in 11 of 21 majors, including math, science, and computer sciences (Brush, 409). [link]

Finally, has a page about gender disparities in standardized test scores, and some of the underlying causes (and yes, one of the causes is a possible bias in the tests).


  1. Anonymous said...

    Thanks Abi: What was fascinating for me is that women score lower on multiple-choice questions. I can't think really of a single reason other than the time factor hypothesis that this might be so. controlling for that, do you think there is anything in the multiple-choice question format itself that primes women to do worse?


  2. Tabula Rasa said...

    easy -- women can't make up their minds (in your language that would be "more comfortable with duality").

    hah! double score :-D

  3. Aurelie said...

    Thanks a lot for the mention of my blog Abi! I am glad you like it. I enjoy reading yours too, in particular for the posts about higher education in India. Keep up the good work!
    About your post: in my department (industrial engineering) undergraduate women tend to perform better than their male counterparts, at least when they are seniors. Most of my star students have been women. I have only taught seniors so far so it's more difficult for me to judge underclassmen... A wild guess: maybe the college environment suits women better; in high school college-bound students tend to be pushed by their parents a lot so personal motivation would not have much of an impact on grades, but in college the men often party more heavily. In my small sample women tend to be more organized, start working on their assignments earlier, and perform better at the quizzes. Those do seem good predictors of GPA, don't they?
    All the best!
    - Aurelie