Not enough women at community colleges—especially low-income students and those with children—are studying for careers in science, technology, engineering, and math, which are among the nation's fastest-growing fields, according to a report released on Tuesday by the Institute for Women's Policy Research.
That means women are losing out on job security and the potential for higher wages, the report says. It calls on community colleges to encourage female students to pursue careers in those areas, known as the STEM fields.
Community colleges can play a crucial role in educating women for STEM occupations, says the report, "Increasing Opportunities For Low-Income Women and Student Parents in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math at Community Colleges." Those institutions tend to enroll a disproportionate number of low-income women who are also parents, and many such students pursue careers that are not associated with high salaries.
The report recommends actively recruiting women, especially those with children, into STEM programs by emphasizing the economic value of occupations in those fields. Other recommendations include expanding child-care services on campus and offering financial incentives, such as payment for course completion.
Although women make up close to half of the labor force, only one in four STEM jobs is held by a woman, the report says. Employment in the STEM fields is expected to go up by 10 percent between 2008 and 2018, according to the report, and, in some subspecialties, that growth is projected to be up to 30 percent.
In 2009, women in non-STEM careers had median annual earnings of $35,633, the report says. In certain STEM fields, those median earnings ranged from $41,091 (for engineering technicians) to $71,944 (for electrical and electronics engineers).
Within STEM fields, different jobs require varying levels of education, the report notes. For example, students can train to be environmental-engineering technicians or biological technicians at two-year colleges. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates growth rates of 30 percent and 18 percent, respectively, in those two occupations.