Kansas Scholars Investigate Why Women Drop Out of STEM Fields

Two scholars from the University of Kansas have published research on factors impacting why women persist or drop out of  STEM fields. The research, published in the Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, was authored by Barbara Kerr and Karen Multon, both full professors at the University of Kansas.

Women at three universities were asked questions on their access to various resources, their perception of their status, and their perceived ability to overcome obstables. The women indicated on a illustration of a ladder where they perceived themselves in relation to society as a whole on a wide range of variables, including gender, geographic location, race/ethnicity, ability, attractiveness, intelligence, social class, and many other factors.

The results showed that ability alone could not predict success in STEM fields. Women who perceived themselves near the top of the ladder on a wide range of attributes were found to be more likely to succeed.

While access to financial resources was one indicator of success, it was not a guarantee. “Having money is not the same as having beneficial social connections, and for many less privileged women, scholarships and other support for their education may not, by themselves, provide the necessary social networks that can support and encourage persistence in college and in STEM fields,” the authors noted.

“A standardized instrument measuring all important facets of privilege may make it possible for STEM studies to both describe more accurately the subjective experience of girls and women as well as to identify those who could benefit from specialized interventions to enhance persistence,” the authors concluded.

Barbara A. Kerr is the Williamson Family Distinguished Professor of Counseling Psychology and Research in Education. She holds a bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from the University of Missouri. She earned a master’s degree at Ohio State University

Karen Multon is professor and chair of the department of psychology and research in education. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. She earned a master’s degree in learning disabilities from St. Xavier University in Chicago and a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Loyola University of Chicago.

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