Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Higher Education Administration

Major Professor

Terry Ishitani

Committee Members

Norma Mertz, Susan Benner, Lynn Hodge


Scholars have reported that the competitiveness and innovation of the United States’ workforce in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics [STEM] fields are critical to maintaining our nation’s security and economic edge (Chen, 2009; Carlone & Johnson, 2007; Espinosa, 2011). Indeed, STEM is one of the fastest growing fields in the employment industry, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce (Langdon, et. al, 2011), and between 2008 and 2018, the number of STEM jobs is expected to increase 17%. Fostering learning pathways for all individuals interested in pursuing careers and education in STEM disciplines is necessary for us to meet the demands of the labor force and benefit from “diverse scientific inquiry” (Espinosa, 2011 p. 236).

The purpose of the study was to explore the relationship of various pre-college and college factors with persistence of women in STEM majors. This study used the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 (HSLS:09) to explore the relationships between the variables. Pre-college and college factors that were more likely to influence persistence of women majoring in STEM were identified and categorized into three groups based on Perna’s conceptual framework: individual habitus, school and community context, and higher education context (Perna, 2000). Block entry logistic regression was used to explore the relationship between variables within the three layers.

The findings from this study echoed the relationship of STEM GPA and participation with faculty as significant for persistence of women in STEM. Some of the findings were surprising and contrary to previous research. For example, socioeconomic status (SES) was only significant for one block of the three. Race and overall GPA were insignificant for all blocks they were included. The most surprising finding was participation in community-based project was negatively correlated with persistence of women majoring in STEM. Higher education institutions can use this information to develop strategic initiatives to support women majoring in STEM.

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