Wang, Research Team Publish Study Examining Two-Year College Women’s Transfer into STEM Programs

February 24, 2017

UW-Madison’s Xueli Wang and her research team authored an intriguing new report that appears in the most recent edition of the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

The article is headlined "A Nuanced Look at Women in STEM Fields at Two-Year Colleges: Factors That Shape Female Students' Transfer Intent." The report examines women's intent to transfer to a four-year program after starting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs or courses at two-year colleges.

[UW-Madison Lab] This research is one of several articles forthcoming in peer-reviewed journals based on Wang’s STEM Transfer project, a longitudinal mixed methods study funded by the National Science Foundation. The study was originally conceived when Wang was invited to participate in a two-day national convening on the topic of gender in engineering and computing, hosted by the American Association of University Women and supported by the NSF. 

According to Kathleen Buse, who helped organize the convening, “The meeting’s main charge revolved around developing an innovative research agenda aimed at increasing the representation of women in engineering and computing.”

Following the meeting, a special topic edition with Frontiers in Psychology (Organizational Psychology Section) was devoted to the future research agenda as well as scholarly articles on this important topic. Wang’s study was among the four blind-reviewed articles that have been accepted in this special issue.

Wang is an associate professor with the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, and is a Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education (WISCAPE) faculty affiliate. Co-authors on the paper include Hsun-yu Chan, Sara Jimenez Soffa and Brett Ranon Nachman, a doctoral student with the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis.

The report notes how two-year colleges are often noted for being accessible and affordable, so many women enrolled in two-year programs are from "historically underserved populations, such as first-generation, racial/ethnic minority, low-income, and part-time students." Understanding the nuances of why women enrolled at these schools intend to transfer upward will help colleges and universities support these women's upward mobility and increase the number and diversity of women in STEM programs.

Using survey data collected from nearly 700 women enrolled at several two-year colleges with transfer programs, the study revealed that students’ math and science self-efficacy beliefs, as well as transfer-oriented interaction, were significant and positive predictors for their intent to transfer into STEM fields, as opposed to having no intent to transfer.

In addition, considering women's many other identities and characteristics, such as marital status and racial or ethnic background, even more nuanced findings emerge from the study. For example, despite the positive relationship between transfer-oriented interaction and the intention to transfer into STEM fields, black women appeared to be less likely to transfer into STEM fields than white students, until black students reported a moderate level of transfer-oriented interaction. These and other findings bear important and nuanced implications as policymakers, educators and researchers continue to discover ways to better support women’s educational pathways and success in STEM fields at and through two-year colleges.

Read more online at Frontiers in Psychology.