Career and technical education is no longer the forgotten stepchild of education reform. The plight of jobless Americans took center stage in the turbulent Presidential election and raised the stakes for creating pathways to the middle class that don’t pass through the ivy-fringed gates of four-year colleges. In fact, jaded Congress watchers believe that CTE may be one of the few issues that will win bipartisan support in 2017.
That’s good news, but converts to the CTE cause will soon discover what CTE experts have known for a long time: namely, that the gender gaps in CTE’s STEM subjects are every bit as large as gender gaps in advanced math and science classes. In fact, those gaps are growing. To create broad opportunities for all their students, states must meet this problem head on.
To gauge the depth of the challenge, we reviewed federal data on high school students who concentrate in one of four critical STEM CTE fields: Health science, information technology, manufacturing, and science & technology.
The lion’s share of female high schoolers concentrating in STEM CTE study health science, while male students are more evenly distributed:
Not surprisingly, high school girls dominate health science, but they are scarce in the other three career clusters. The imbalance has gotten worse since 2007/08:
In science and engineering, girls held steady at a measly 25 percent. 
The news isn’t all bad for girls. They dominate in health sciences at a time when the healthcare sector is growing quickly and middle-skill jobs in health command a strong wage, at least for those who go on to earn a two-year technical degree.
Still, the gender imbalances should concern everyone. it’s more than a bit troubling that segregation by gender is getting worse. As fields like healthcare and computing continue to grow, we cannot draw most of our talent from only half of the population. In addition, a growing body of research tells us that organizations benefit from gender diversity in the workplace.
What’s to be done? As with most problems that really matter, the solutions are multifaceted, ranging from formally recruiting girls as early as middle schools to redesigning CTE curricula to avoid gender stereotypes and providing CTE teachers professional development on how to create a welcoming environment for all genders.
(Check out this handy primer on professional development for a fuller list.)
Employers should continue making the case for gender balance while identifying employees who can serve as mentors: female employees in advanced manufacturing, for example, or male nurses. Governors can use their bully pulpit to advance campaigns that encourage gender diversity in middle-skill STEM jobs. Career and technical educators can work with their schools and districts to design targeted student recruitment strategies that break through the gender stereotypes.
Each state or community might find a different set of solutions, but none can afford to ignore the problem. State leaders must dedicate themselves to improving matters. The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, which is likely to be reauthorized this year, requires states to report on their progress in improving gender equity in CTE. It is not yet clear, however, whether states will suffer any federal consequences if they fail to reach their targets. There is little appetite for federal sanctions these days.
The solution is up to all of us. After all, everyone has a major stake in fostering a creative and robust middle skills workforce. We won’t get there if we allow boys and girls to go their separate ways.
 Health Science, Information Technology, Manufacturing, and “STEM” are career clusters in the National Career Clusters Framework. For the purposes of this analysis, we have renamed the STEM career cluster as “Science & engineering” to avoid confusion with our own definition of STEM, which includes the other three career clusters. The Science & engineering cluster includes “planning, managing and providing scientific research and professional and technical services (e.g., physical science, social science, engineering) including laboratory and testing services, and research and development services.”
 Data reveal that male and female enrollments more than doubled—growing by roughly 120 percent each. That said, girls did not improve their relative position.
In the past three weeks, we have been examining recent data on computing and engineering degrees. We have already reported encouraging news about the overall growth in those degrees and mixed news about the extent to which African Americans and Latinos are sharing in that growth. Today's blog examines how women are faring in these critical fields. Our verdict: there is not much to celebrate yet, but there may be some glimmers of hope.
Let’s start with the glass half empty. The following chart looks far too familiar, even though it contains some new data on the gender disparity in computing degrees:
While men have surged past their 2004 peak by a healthy 27 percent, women just barely cleared their 2003 peak last year.
And the above chart conveys the good news, relatively speaking: it represents trends in bachelor’s and higher degrees, where women fared the best. Women have lost far more ground in degrees and certificates below the bachelor’s level:
Women’s share of bachelor’s and higher degrees tumbled by more than six percentage points since 2001, but their share of sub-bachelor’s credentials plunged by more than 20 percentage points over the same period.
Why is this a concern? Economists expect computing jobs to surge in the coming decade, and computing jobs that require less than a bachelor's degree are no exception. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that, between 2014 and 2024, jobs for computer support specialists and web developers will grow by 11.6 and 26.6 percent, respectively. Over that decade, these two occupations will generate 265,000 job openings whose average pay well exceeds the $36,200 average salary for all occupations. The past decade and a half have seen women's prospects for such good jobs plummet.
And now for the glass half full: While some of these data seem discouraging on their face, the charts do suggest that we have finally stanched the bleeding. The decline in computing degrees and certificates going to women has leveled off.
There may be much better news to come. The last five years have seen an unprecedented national focus on girls in computer science. It will take a few years yet for that focus to affect college graduation data.
At first blush, there seems to be more to celebrate in engineering than in computer science. Women made small gains in engineering degrees at the bachelor’s level and above, even as they earned a declining share of credentials below the bachelor’s level:
The share of engineering degrees that went to women climbed 2.4 percentage points between 2009 and 2015. The decline in sub-bachelor's degrees is less concerning in engineering than in computing, because the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects little or no growth in engineering technology jobs, which generally require less than a bachelor's degree.
Things are moving in the right direction for women in engineering, but too slowly. At this rate, women will have to wait roughly three quarters of a century to reach parity with men.
A closer look at the data reveals stronger trends in master’s and doctoral degrees since 2001:
Women's share of master's degrees rose by almost four percentage points between 2001 and 2015, and their share of doctoral degrees advanced by more than six and a half percentage points. Women's percentage of bachelor's degrees experiences a slow and steady slump before 2009 but women have regained all of their lost ground since then. Initiatives to diversify graduate degrees may be bearing fruit.
These data suggest that initiatives to diversify graduate degrees may be paying off, which in turn can promote more female role models among U.S. engineering professors[i] That said, we still have far to go before women receive a proportionate share of doctoral degrees.
[i] Data are scarce on how many women serve on engineering faculty. Researchers should study whether women’s progress in doctoral degrees is affecting the gender balance of engineering departments.
On October 26, we shared some good news about degrees in computer science and engineering: Since the recession, they grew much faster than degrees and certificates overall. Today, we take a closer look at students of color in those fields, and we have at least some good news to share--mixed with much that should concern us.
For every race, the number of bachelor’s and advanced degrees in computer science and engineering has grown faster than the overall population between 18 and 24. In other words, your typical black, Latino, or white person of college age was more likely to earn one of these degrees in 2015 than in 2001. On balance, that’s good news for everyone.
Of course, it’s far too soon to declare victory, because a small number degrees can grow by a large percentage and still be a small number of degrees.
The more important question is whether people of color are earning degrees in proportion to their share of the population. In the best of all possible worlds, for example, Latinos would earn 21 percent of degrees, because they comprise 21 percent of the college-age population.
The reality falls far short of that ideal, but there are glimmers of hope.
For African Americans, the picture in computer science is mixed. The share of bachelor’s degrees they receive has fallen off since the high point of 2007, but new data suggest that their share of master’s degrees surged for almost a decade before retreating somewhat after 2013. African Americans are actually overrepresented among Americans who receive master’s degrees.[i]
Why? A report in Science Magazine cited this trend in Master’s degrees as early as 2011 and speculated that efforts to attract more African Americans into computer science graduate degrees were bearing fruit. That may well be true, but disappointing trends in bachelor’s degrees will surely thwart further progress in advanced degrees.
Alas, it is hard to find much good news about African Americans in engineering. Their share of bachelor’s degrees has declined slightly since 2005, and their share of master’s degrees has barely kept pace with population growth.
This problem may arise from the fact that African American students have limited access to advanced high school classes—like calculus—that can be gateways to engineering in college.
Latinos earn a smaller share of computer science degrees than African Americans do, but they are making steady, albeit slow, gains, mostly at the bachelor’s level.
If you look hard, you can see the gap between Latinos' share of bachelor's degrees (the dark blue line) and their share of the population (the red line) narrowing, especially after 2009. Since that year, Latinos’ share of bachelor’s degrees has risen roughly 2 ½ percentage points while their share of the population rose by less than a percentage point. In the previous six years, their share of bachelor's degrees had risen more slowly--roughly 1 ½ percentage points.
Latinos are also making gains in engineering:
Their share of bachelor’s degrees has risen almost four percentage points since 2007, roughly twice as fast as their share of the population over the same period. Master’s degrees have seen nearly parallel gains since 2009.
Why have Latinos gained in some areas where African Americans have been treading water? It’s hard to say without more evidence. More research could help us learn from our successes and replicate them.
Despite some encouraging signs, it’s hardly time to pop the champagne corks. If the pace of change doesn’t pick up, it would take more than a decade for Latinos to close engineering gaps, and even longer for them to close computer science gaps. African Americans would never close the gaps in bachelor’s-level engineering and computer science.
Yes, we have made some progress, but minority students’ current K-12 experience will impose a low ceiling on that progress. As CTEq’s state-by-state Vital Signs website demonstrates, students of color still have the least access to the resources, facilities, and classes that best prepare students for college-level STEM.
There are carefully-vetted strategies and programs that can help students overcome hurdles like these. For dozens of programs that can prove they’re making a difference, take a look at CTEq's STEMworks honor roll of effective STEM education programs. For all their accomplishments, programs like these are not going to close the gaps unless the nation rallies around them with the public and private commitment and resources they need to reach many more young people.
Incremental progress just won’t do as long as STEM literacy remains a gatekeeper to individual and national prosperity.
Stay tuned next week for the most recent data on women in computer science and engineering.
The Great Recession put an exclamation point behind the message of STEM education advocates around the country. Amidst worsening unemployment and anxiety about an uncertain economic future, a credential in fields such as computer science and engineering promised stability and prosperity. CTEq’s new analysis of federal data on degrees and certificates awarded in the U.S. shows that Americans may have embraced this promise.
Since 2009, the number of degrees and certificates in computer science and engineering has grown much faster than the number of degrees and certificates overall.
Overall, degrees and certificates below the bachelor’s level grew the fastest. In computer science and engineering, by contrast, the number of bachelor’s and advanced degrees has grown faster than the number of credentials below the bachelor’s level. That said, even subbacalaureate growth has been robust in these STEM fields:
This trend towards bachelor’s and advanced degrees has changed the balance of computer science and engineering credentials since 2001:
Why the growth in these STEM degrees and certificates? Americans seem to be responding to market forces, and the advantages of computer science and engineering degrees are attractive, especially and the bachelor's level and above. Vocal STEM champions--including CTEq--publicized the immediate rewards of STEM credentials, especially during the economic recovery. Take, for example, this overview of STEM unemployment from 2011 to 2014:
The employment advantage has held up well for computer science and engineering in 2016:
The earnings incentives for getting degrees in computing or engineering could hardly be clearer:
So what lessons can we take away from these recent data? Those of us who have been shouting from the rooftops about the benefits of an education in computer science and engineering can take heart that our messages are not falling on deaf ears.
Stay tuned in the coming week for more in-depth analysis of these trends by race and gender.
UPDATE: The analysis of credentials in computing and engineering relied on data from the U.S. Department of Education's Integrated Postsecondary Education System (IPEDS) from 2001 to 2015. Subbaccalaureate credentials include "postsecondary certificates," "associate's degrees," and "awards of at least 2 but less than 4 academic years. Bachelor's-plus degrees include "bachelor's degrees," "post-baccalaureate certificates," "Master's degrees," "Post-master's certificates," and "Doctor's degrees." Computing credentials include a broad range of computer science, information technology, and other computer-related degree and certificate programs. Engineering credentials include degrees and certificates in engineering technology, civil engineering, electrical engineering, industrical engineering, mechanical engineering, and other engineering fields.
Although African-Americans comprise 12-13 percent of the U.S. population, they are not represented at that rate as engineering degree holders. While electrical engineering is the closest field to full representation at 6 percent, mechanical engineering trails behind at 3 percent.
Source: Georgetown University, African Americans College Majors & Earnings, 2016. https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/AfricanAmericanMajors_2016_web.pdf