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The role of living–learning programs in women’s plans to attend graduate school in STEM fields (Szelényi & Inkelas 2011)

Citation

Szelényi, K., & Inkelas, K. (2011). The role of living–learning programs in women’s plans to attend graduate school in STEM fields. Research in Higher Education, 52(4), 349-369.

Highlights

    • The study’s objective was to assess the impact of participating in a female-only STEM living-learning program on undergraduate female STEM majors’ intentions to pursue graduate studies in a STEM field.
    • The authors conducted regression analysis using data from the 2004–2007 National Study of Living Learning Programs (NSLLP) to determine if women who participated in female-only STEM living-learning programs were more likely than women in other living arrangements to express plans to attend graduate school in a STEM field.
    • The study found that the female undergraduate STEM majors living in a female-only STEM living-learning community were more likely to have plans to attend graduate school in a STEM field than female STEM majors living in coeducational STEM living-learning communities, non-STEM living-learning communities, or traditional residence halls.
    • The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors’ analysis did not account for important individual characteristics related to the outcome that could differ across groups. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to female-only STEM living-learning programs. Other factors are likely to have contributed.

Intervention Examined

STEM Living-Learning Programs

Features of the Intervention

Living-learning programs offer undergraduate students the opportunity to live in a designated community with other students sharing a common interest and to participate in academic and extracurricular activities related to that interest. This study examined female-only and coeducational living-learning programs focused on STEM fields, as well as living-learning programs that did not focus on STEM fields. Participating universities were four-year universities with on-campus housing facilities.

Features of the Study

The study used data from the 2004–2007 NSLLP. The authors conducted regression analysis to identify the relationship between participating in an all-female STEM living-learning program during the first year of college and participants’ plans to attend graduate school in STEM fields, measured three years later. Outcomes for students who chose to participate in all-female STEM living-learning programs were compared with outcomes of students who chose coeducational STEM living-learning communities, non-STEM living-learning communities, and traditional residence halls. The study sample included 294 undergraduate women pursuing STEM degrees.

Findings

    • The study found that the female STEM majors living in a female-only STEM living-learning community were significantly more likely to have plans to attend graduate school in a STEM field than female STEM majors living in coeducational STEM living-learning communities (by 35 percent), non-STEM living-learning communities (by 31 percent), or traditional residence halls (by 29 percent).

Considerations for Interpreting the Findings

This study did not account for selection into the treatment condition. Women who chose to participate in a STEM living-learning program might have had unobservable characteristics that made them more likely to plan to pursue graduate studies in a STEM field. For this reason, estimated impacts might reflect the effects of such factors in addition to any effects of the female-only STEM living-learning community.

The study also had a very low response rate. Only 16 of the original 34 schools agreed to participate in the second round of data collection; among the women in those schools who were surveyed in the first round, only 20.9 percent responded in the second round. The low response rate raises concerns that the findings might not be generalizable to a broader population of female STEM majors.

Causal Evidence Rating

The quality of causal evidence presented in this report is low because the authors’ analysis did not account for important individual characteristics related to the outcome that could differ across groups. This means we are not confident that the estimated effects are attributable to female-only STEM living-learning programs; other factors are likely to have contributed.

Reviewed by CLEAR

February 2016