By Claire Hansen

US News & World Report, November 29, 2017 —

Though women earn significantly more bachelor’s degrees than men, they are substantially less likely to obtain a degree in science, technology, engineering or math.

A female science student working in a laboratory. (Matt Lincoln/Cultura RM Exclusive/Getty Images)

Despite modest gains in degree attainment in science, technology, engineering and math, women and minorities remain grossly underrepresented in the fields, according to a new report out Wednesday.

Women are also less likely to enter STEM occupations after earning a STEM degree as are blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, according to the report, which was prepared by the RAND corporation and commissioned by the American Petroleum Institute, a trade association with over 625 members in the oil and natural gas field. The report analyzes broad STEM degree attainment and employment trends, and pays specific attention those in the the oil and natural gas sector.

The results of the study are demonstrative of a long-standing gender and race gap in STEM fields and the persistent impact of the “leaky pipeline” on the participation of women and minorities in STEM spheres.

From 2003 to 2015, the number of STEM degrees as percentage of all bachelor’s degrees rose from 34.8 to 35.9. Women and men earned about the same number of STEM degrees, but because women earn substantially more bachelor’s degrees than men, men earn proportionally more STEM degrees. Over 42 percent of men in four-year degree programs obtained a STEM degree in 2015, while just about 31 percent of women did–a gap that has grown since 2003.

“Figure 2.8: Total Number of Associate’s Degrees Awarded in STEM Majors, by Gender, 2003-2015,” taken from the Rand Corporation’s education report, “Postsecondary Education and STEM Employment in the United States: An Analysis of National Trends with a Focus on the Natural Gas and Oil Industry.” (RAND CORPORATION)

The gender gap is even more pronounced when considering associate’s degrees. Men earn more associate’s degrees than women, and also earn more associate’s degrees in STEM fields. In 2015, nearly 88,500 men were awarded associate’s degrees in STEM while women obtained about 54,500.

Disparities in STEM degree attainment also persist along race and ethnicity lines. Whites earned the most bachelor’s and associate’s degrees in any field, followed by Hispanics, blacks, Asians and Native Americans.

 However, though Asians earn the second-fewest number of bachelor’s degrees, they proportionally earn the most STEM degrees, at 50 percent. Hispanics earn the next-highest rate of degrees, followed by whites, Native Americans and blacks.

Rebecca Winkel, an economic and policy advisor for API, says the group commissioned the study to prepare to fill future workforce need. An ISH report prepared for API projects nearly 1.9 job opportunities will be available in the oil and natural gas industry through 2035.

“We know if we want the best people, our reach has to extend beyond just white men, because the best and the brightest come from all different backgrounds [including] race, ethnicity, nationality and gender and orientation,” Winkel said.

Winkel added she hopes other STEM industries will also use the report to combat challenge in STEM fields.

Among all people earning STEM degrees, just about 40 percent go on to STEM careers, according to the report. Significantly less women with a STEM bachelor’s degree funnel into STEM jobs than men, at about 30 percent and 49 percent respectively. Regardless of gender, white and Asian STEM degree earners are the most likely to work in STEM fields, followed by Hispanics,Native Americans, and blacks.

“Figure 3.4: Employment in a STEM Occupation, by Gender,” taken from the Rand Corporation’s education report, “Postsecondary Education and STEM Employment in the United States: An Analysis of National Trends with a Focus on the Natural Gas and Oil Industry.” (RAND CORPORATION)

The report found the average wage of STEM workers exceeds those of non-STEM workers by almost $8.50 an hour, though the gap is considerably less on average for women.

In the oil and natural gas industry specifically, this gap is smaller, but overall wages are higher.

The report also examined the impact of earning specialty licenses or certifications not requiring a bachelor’s degree, something that Winkel says is often overlooked in the STEM conversation.

“There are a lot of individuals who don’t go on to get a four-year degree, and there has to be a viable pathway for them to support themselves and their families with a well-paying career,” Winkel says, adding that 57 percent of opportunities in the oil and natural gas industry are in blue-collar positions.

The report found holding a license or certificate increases the probability of employment, and increases wages for under-represented groups such as women, Hispanics, and those lacking a high school diploma.

The report does not address why the gender and racial gaps in STEM involvement, or those specific to the oil and natural gas industry, exist. Winkel says women and minorities are often unaware of opportunities in the industry.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has touted apprenticeships, associate’s degrees and other trade-specific career paths and has emphasized STEM training, though it’s unclear how much sway she’ll have in directing federal dollars to those priorities. Instead, she’s counting on the private sector to partner with K-12 schools and high education institutions to design innovative programs that spark students’ interest in STEM and get them on a career pathway.

Winkel says that API supports STEM initiatives and welcomes partnerships with other organizations and as well as the government to increase STEM involvement in underrepresented groups.

“We can’t hire people who aren’t trained, and we know if you don’t hear and start to understand STEM early on, it makes it much less likely that you will earn a stem degree later,” Winkel says. “It’s really a pipeline that we need to strengthen pre-K all the way through the end of a four-year degrees.”

U.S. News Reporter Lauren Camera contributed to this article.