Effective Practices at Community Colleges and Four- Year Institutions for Increasing Women in Information Technology (IT) Fields

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1 Effective Practices at Community Colleges and Four- Year Institutions for Increasing Women in Information Technology (IT) Fields Project Results and Overview Problem Statement and Project Goals Colorado ranks as one of the leading information technology states in the nation, even with the recent economic decline. Colorado s continued economic recovery in general, and its potential for long-term vibrancy in the IT sector in particular, depend on increasing the pool of qualified candidates with computer science and technical degrees from four-year programs. The United States Department of Labor indicates that the demand for IT workers will continue to develop in the coming years. Research shows that employers view a four-year degree as one of the best ways for new employees to gain the skills necessary for employment in IT. At the same time, the pool of qualified candidates with computer science and technical degrees from four-year programs is shrinking. Increasing the participation of women in four-year degree programs is one way to achieve this goal. Women are currently underrepresented in the IT workforce and constitute an untapped resource for Colorado s IT industry. Increasing women s participation in IT fields will benefit the State of Colorado in several ways: it will increase the supply of IT workers; it will enrich and diversify the IT industry, as well as its products and services; and it will allow women to take advantage of the significant economic opportunities afforded by IT work. Although women are not equally represented in the IT workforce and in technical programs in high schools and at four-year colleges and universities, they constitute a relatively large proportion of students enrolled in computing and IT programs in Colorado s community colleges. The Colorado Undergraduate Education for Women in Information Technology (CUEWIT) project focuses on this phenomenon. CUEWIT seeks to increase the number of women entering the Colorado IT workforce with four-year degrees in computer science and other IT areas by addressing the range of programs, practices, and attitudes around recruiting, advising, and retention of women community college students and their transfer into four-year programs. CUEWIT was funded by the Colorado Institute of Technology (CIT) as the Effective Practices at Community Colleges and Four-Year Institutions for

2 Increasing Women in Information Technology (IT) Fields project, a research and programmatic partnership between the University of Colorado (Boulder and Denver campuses) and The Women s College at the University of Denver that provided a unique opportunity for broad collaboration across diverse educational institutions and a comprehensive look at the effectiveness of community college four-year articulation for women in IT fields. The researchers and staff involved with the project are grateful to CIT for their generous support of their research and programmatic efforts, the results of which have already found a nationwide audience through the National Center for Women and IT s dissemination channels. Research and Programmatic Project The CUEWIT project consisted of two phases of research and programmatic action. In the first phase of this project, University of Colorado at Denver researchers investigated the factors influencing women to participate in IT at the community college level, and factors influencing their continued education in four-year institutions. Discovering community college women s occupational outcomes upon graduation and their perceptions of the IT field were also vital to the research and programmatic design of the second phase of the project. Analysis of enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics 1 informed the study - researchers used this data to investigate the prevalence of women enrolled in IT programs in Colorado s community colleges. During this phase, researchers studied six two year and four year institutions of higher education. At each institution, researchers interviewed women students, alumnae, faculty, and staff; conducted surveys and focus groups; and observed computer science courses. Some guiding questions in the research on community college and nontraditional women participating in IT programs were: What are their motivations? What prompts them to enroll in these programs? To continue? What are their career goals? What do they do with their degree? The second phase of the project included two components - a mentoring program for women in IT (with extensive surveying of community college students, as well as the participants of the program), and field trips for academic service advisors and career counselors. Investigators aimed to support women students in becoming more active in IT at the community college level. Another goal was to increase awareness of IT professions in the Colorado area, within the IT field, and in other employment sectors, among critical community college student influencers- the student service advisors. The evidence catalogued and analyzed from these two endeavors include surveys of women involved in the IT 1 Horrigan, M.W. (2003). Introduction to the projections. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. stats.bls.gov/opub/00q/2003/winter/art01.pdf.

3 mentoring program (i.e., protégées in target group) and women who were not actively and voluntarily participating in an IT recruiting program (i.e., comparison group), qualitative interview transcripts from mentor pair interviews, and pre-post survey data from field trip participants. A summary of the major findings from both phases of the CUEWIT project is presented below. Please refer to the Appendix of this report for the full versions of the research reports produced during both phases of this project. Methods Researchers used a mixed-methods approach to study women active in IT as well as other students at the community college and four year levels. Phase I of the project included classroom observations, interviews and focus groups with students, graduates, faculty, and administration, analysis of graduation data from higher education institutions, and six site visits. Details about the methodology of Phase I can be found in Appendix A. In the second phase, researchers administered surveys to community college students from the mentoring program and their peers about their attitudes knowledge and intentions about IT. The focus of this survey was to determine if there were any differences between the women who self-selected into the mentoring program and those who did not. Researchers also held unstructured interviews with mentor-protégée pairs, conducted career counselor and student service advisor focus groups and surveys regarding IT fieldtrips and their effects on counseling intentions and knowledge about IT. Appendix B includes a further discussion of methodology for Phase II. Findings - Phase One Colorado community colleges Parity in technology? In the past seven years, women earned 54% of the 1700 associate s degrees in IT. This figure is somewhat larger than the percentage of women in the technical fields of IT, such as Management Information Systems (MIS). The MIS degrees form a technical subset of the larger IT field, which has substantial amounts of women in data entry and business administration. The numbers of women in the technical subfield of IT varied in seven years from a high of 51% to 39% in Female participants in Colorado community college IT programs Research findings show that women in the community college IT programs are significantly older than their male counterparts. Two-thirds of the women in this study were non-traditional students returning to school after working in lowpaying jobs. The women participating in the study select IT because they perceive it to be an interesting field that will help them become more

4 economically powerful. The women see the field as being more flexible than other occupations and more conducive to raising a family. The women in this study chose to study at community colleges because they view them as less expensive institutions with smaller classes and concerned faculty. They believe the community college has students more like themselves. Choices among community college are based on location, convenience, or familiarity with the institution. Women students in this study describe supportive friends and family regarding their decision to pursue higher education. Female students participating in this study were interested in pursuing a bachelor s degree, but only 38% felt that they would eventually earn a bachelor s degree. Those that did saw themselves working toward the degree gradually while working to support their families. Women active participants in Colorado community college classrooms Observational data support the perception that the Community college classroom environments are friendly and non-competitive. Classroom observations indicate that in community college classrooms women are often active participants, and are stronger students than the males in the classroom, according to faculty members. Instructors ease anxiety and engage with students before and after class. Graduates thrive in the IT workplace Only one-third of the community college alumnae worked in IT upon graduation or completion of a certificate program. The male graduates fared better, but were also more likely to earn associates degrees rather than complete certification programs. Alumnae from the non-traditional four-year degree programs reported superior incomes, higher rates of employment in IT (find the number), and greater perceived balance between work and family obligations. The women employed in IT positions were thriving in IT. Two thirds of the women surveyed and interviewed reported they were very satisfied with their work. Even higher rates of women perceived their supervisors supported their development, and felt they adequately balanced their work and family lives. Findings - Phase Two Survey Results for Target and Comparison Groups Information Technology Community college students attitudes regarding IT were consistent among target and comparison groups regarding usefulness of IT, importance of IT to society,

5 and fun of IT related tasks. However, students in the target group tended to disagree that working on computers is isolating, while students in the comparison group tended to agree that working on computers is isolating. Four-year and IT degree programs Community college students attitudes regarding four-year and IT degree programs were consistent among the target and comparison groups regarding the necessity of strong math, computer, programming, communication, and project management skills to major in four-year IT degree programs. Students in both groups tended to disagree that studying IT is isolating and that it is difficult for women to major in four-year degree programs. Students in both groups, however, tended to agree that there are not enough women in four-year IT degree programs. Protégées in the target group tended to agree that studying IT was fun, while comparison participants tended to disagree. Finally, a larger proportion of target group members reported that they are enrolled, or intend to enroll, in a four-year degree program than comparison group members. IT career fields- application versus integration (?) When asked to list all of the IT occupations they could think of, target group members provided a broad list of IT careers, while the comparison group tended to mention only programming and IT applications. Comparison group members described their ideal IT jobs in terms of software applications of Information Technology, while target members preferred networking and security career fields. Encouragement and barriers to achieving education or career goalsconfidence a factor Students in both the comparison and target groups tended to be encouraged by the perceptions that IT is important to society and that computers are interesting tools that can be used to get things done. Both groups were similarly encouraged to work in the IT field by the perceptions that working on IT tasks is fun and IT is important to my future. The perceptions that IT work requires creativity, as well as strong communication, computer and programming skills encouraged the target and control groups to work in IT fields. The following perceptions discouraged both groups of survey participants: working on IT related tasks is stressful, only geeks work in IT and working in IT is isolating. The most serious barrier to success in achieving academically and in the workplace was the target group s lack of confidence in their own abilities, followed by feeling unsure how to proceed to achieve their goals, and financial strain. Here, the comparison group answered quite differently- financial strain was the most serious barrier to respondents achievement, followed by family obligations and feeling unsure how to proceed. The comparison group viewed lack of confidence as an issue they deemed not serious.

6 IT skills- surfing, chatting, and office tasks take the lead Both target and comparison group members were most confident using web browsers, office productivity software, and communication tools. Both groups of survey participants were least confident using web development and animation/graphics software. Mentor Pairs- Relationships Still Growing Strong Protégées reported they self-selected into the IT mentoring program to network with other women in the field, supplement their educational programs, and to receive support and assistance in technology from professional women in IT. Mentors and protégées interacted through , phone, and face-to-face meetings. All of the pairs met face to face early in their mentoring relationship, and they all said this was preferable to meeting strictly in an online environment. The pairs spent their time together discussing transferring courses between two and four year institutions, seeking out technology opportunities in the workplace, application assistance for protégée s employment and internship opportunities, web-based development, network security in a corporate setting, and computer certification. The flexibility and loose structure of the program was an asset, according to all of the pairs, because it allowed the women to construct a relationship that worked for mentor and protégée alike. Protégées reported that the experience motivated them to persist in and expand their participation in IT. Mentors were inspirational, encouraging, and helpful to their protégées. The women felt they needed assistance in becoming successful in IT, and the mentoring program was an appropriate avenue for providing that assistance. Mentors felt as if they were assisting the next generation of women and IT and appreciated the opportunity to give back to the women in the IT community. All of the pairs said they planned to continue their relationships after the program funding for the mentor portion of the project ceased in the summer of Field Trip for Career Counselors and Student Services Advisors a Catalyst for change in thinking about IT In survey counseling scenarios student service advisors and career counselors altered their responses to fictitious students after attending the First Data field trip. Post-survey responses show a positive regard for continuing education ( you will go to school for the rest of your career ) and practical experience. One hundred percent of the field trip participants took the pre-field trip survey, while only 67% completed the post survey. Results indicate that 100% of the responding participants rated the First Data field trip experience as pretty good to really good. Seventy-five percent of respondents said the field trip changed their understanding of IT a bit to a lot, while 25% said the field trip did not

7 change their understanding of IT at all. All of the participants agreed that researchers should hold more field trips in the future. Recommendations The recommendations from both phases of this project include: Create a system where academic advisors are IT advocates, running mentoring programs with support, identifying students who would need these labor-intensive mentoring programs, and advising ALL students to diversify by adding IT majors/minors. Target students themselves through marketing campaign that shows the benefits of a bachelor s degree for working in an IT field, and indicates the flexibility and family-friendly IT work. Establish cohort groups at four-year institutions that promote a sense of community and cohesiveness. Understand the curricular and political barriers of the ragged interface between 2 year and 4 year institutions. Summary The Effective Practices project represented the first collaborative work of the nascent Colorado Coalition for Gender and IT. The project produced results on many levels: much-needed data on what works and what doesn't in recruiting community college students to four-year institutions; the development of strong and strategic working relationships between community colleges and four-year institutions in the Front Range area; and the research data and evaluation of pilot programs needed to embark on extensive NSF-funded research and programmatic efforts being sponsored by the National Center for Women and IT. Far from being a report relegated to dusty shelves, this results of this project will influence research and programs state- and nation-wide as education and industry partners work together to increase the transfer of community college women into four-year computer science and IT programs. Appendix A: Phase I Report Women in Community College Information Technology (IT) Programs: Their Motivations, Environment, and Goals Appendix B: Phase II Report Survey Report and Programmatic Evaluation

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