Women Undergraduate Enrollment in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT

Final Report of the EECS Women Undergraduate Enrollment Committee

January 3, 1995

Committee Members Go to table of contents
Please send comments or corrections to Hal Abelson, hal@mit.edu


The committee would like to give special thanks to Lydia Snover and Bea Frain of the MIT Planning Office for help in collecting the data discussed in chapter 1 and to Ellen Spertus for help with the survey described in chapter 2.

Introduction and Executive Summary

This Commitee was chartered by the MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science to examine the perceived imbalance in male and female undergraduate enrollment at MIT, to get some sense of the reasons for this (in particular whether these factors are internal to MIT), and to suggest steps that might be taken to improve the balance.

We found that imbalance does indeed exist. Women at MIT are about half as likely as men to major in EECS, despite the fact that men and women major at about the same rate in the School of Engineering as a whole. For example, for 1991 S.B. degrees granted, Computer Science had the lowest ratio of women to men of any major at MIT with more than a few students.

The data surveyed in Chapter 1 of this report, assembled from both MIT and national sources, reveal that this pattern is distressingly typical. When measured by the adjusted ratio of women to men (the percentage of women choosing to major in the Department, versus the percentage of men choosing to major in the Department), MIT does about the same as other selective engineering schools and considerably better than selective general universities. Moreover, the imbalance in undergraduate enrollment matches (and is in fact slightly less than) the imbalance with which entering first-year men and women express interest in EECS on their applications for admission to MIT. This makes it difficult to argue that the imbalance in EECS enrollment is a result of factors that are unique to MIT.

It is not adequate, however, merely to report that comparable institutions do as badly as we do. As a national leader in EECS education, MIT should also lead in coming to grips with this imbalance, and in encouraging men and women to participate equally in electrical engineering and computer science. Chapter 2 of this report discusses the results of two surveys of MIT undergraduates, one survey comparing women who are majoring in EECS with women who are not, and one comparing men and women in EECS. The most notable results of these surveys are that women, much more so than men, feel that they have come to MIT "less prepared to major in EECS" than their peers, and that both women and men consider EECS to be a very competitive major.

In Chapter 3 we recommend some easy short-term steps the EECS Department could take to begin to address the enrollment imbalance. We have avoided suggesting measures that would result in any preferential treatment of women over men. Not only would this be counterproductive, but it would also avoid the real underlying issue. There are many superb students who are discouraged from entering electrical engineering and computer science because they are less overtly assertive and self-confident than their peers, or feel that they were not sufficiently exposed to electrical engineering and computer science in high school. These students, both women and men, can become leaders in EECS fields, and it behooves a nationally prominent Department to make sure they that will have every opportunity to do so.

Table of Contents


  • First survey (transfer in women and transfer out women)
  • Second Survey