SAT patterns and engineering and computer science college majors: an intersectional, state-level study

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Background Numerous efforts worldwide have been made to increase diversity in engineering and computer science (ECS), fields that pay well and promote upward mobility. However, in the United States (U.S.), females and students from underrepresented racial/ethnic minority groups (URM) still pursue ECS training far less than do their peers. The current study explored sex and racial/ethnic differences in ECS college enrollment as a function of math and verbal SAT score patterns (balanced or imbalanced) using an intersectional approach within a U.S. context. Data represented a census of students who took the SAT, graduated from all Virginia public high schools between 2006 and 2015, and enrolled in a 4-year college (N = 344,803).

Results Our findings show, within each sex, URM students were at least as likely as their non-URM peers to enroll in ECS programs when they scored within similar SAT score ranges. Students were more likely to enroll in ECS programs if their SAT profile favored math, compared to students with similar math and verbal SAT scores (balanced profile). This overall pattern is notably less pronounced for URM female students; their propensity to major in ECS appeared to be largely independent of verbal scores.

Conclusions Our findings inform strategies to diversify ECS enrollment. If programs continue to emphasize SAT scores during admission decisions or if more systemic issues of resource allocation in secondary schools are not addressed, other efforts to broaden participation in ECS programs may fall short of goals. Our findings also highlight the importance of considering the intersection of sex and race/ethnicity for recruitment or other educational promotions.

International Journal of STEM Education. 2022 Nov 05;9(1):68