Research Shows a Way That Might Increase Retention of Women in College-Level Economics

Laura Ahlstrom, an assistant professor of economics at Oklahoma State University, has won the Phil Saunders Best Economic Education Paper Award from the National Association of Economic Educators. She was the lead author of the paper entitled “Does Taking a Principles of Economics Course Online Influence Student Performance in Intermediate Economics Courses?”

Dr. Ahlstrom’s research found that women college students who took an introductory course on the principles of microeconomics online earned higher grades in a follow-up intermediate microeconomics course than women who took the introductory course in a traditional classroom. The research suggests class format could affect the success of women studying economics.

The data from more than 1,300 female and male students at a land-grant university over a nine-year period clearly showed that women performed better in their intermediate microeconomics course when taking the principles class online rather than in a face-to-face setting. The data showed no such correlation between the grades for male students and class format.

“Some of the research suggests that female students may face what has been called a ‘chilly’ classroom environment, particularly in traditionally male fields such as economics,” Dr. Ahlstrom said.

Dr. Ahlstrom also notes that women students are more sensitive to receiving lower grades in introductory economics courses, which may discourage them from majoring in the discipline. “Women may need higher grades in introductory economics courses in order to persist in taking additional courses and to choose economics as a major,” she explains. Therefore, online introductory courses could help address the gender gap by encouraging more women to major in economics because of improved performance.

Dr. Ahlstrom is a graduate of Millersville University of Pennsylvania, where she majored in social studies education. She earned a master’s degree in history at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, and a Ph.D. in economics education from the University of Delaware.

Filed Under: Research/Study


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