Unlocking the Barriers to Women and Minorities in Computer Science and Information Systems Studies: Results from a Multi-Methodolical Study Conducted at Two Minority Serving Institutions

Article excerpt

Literature Review

It is projected that from 2008 to 2016 there will be a 29% increase in workforce demands for computer system analysts, a 37% increase in demand for jobs for database administrators, and a 38% increase in the availability of jobs for software engineers (U.S. Department of Labor, 2005). Despite increasing demands, women and minorities remain underrepresented in computing fields. This has become a cause for significant concern echoed by a study of corporate executives (Delos, 2008) that found that the lack of minorities and women in computing professions is causing a talent deficit. The executives surveyed blamed the pre-college school system for contributing to the low representation of women and minorities in science and technology fields by not exposing learners to computing through course offerings and/or career counseling.

Furthermore, Young (2004) reported that our perception of student computer skills may be inflated. Young's charge was echoed by Wallace and Clariana (2005) who found that incoming college students lack the necessary computer knowledge, skills, and abilities to pursue undergraduate degree programs that are dependent on strong computing skills.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) examined the population of students who earned computing and/or technology degrees in 2005. According to the NSF (Chute, 2009), only 25% of the 2005 graduates nationwide were women while 75% were men. When race was considered, only 10% of the 2005 graduates were Black.

Further, the enrollment of underrepresented groups in CS and IS programs continues to decline at a significant rate (Clinging, 2006). Clinging (2006) explains that this is influenced by a bias where low expectations foster diminished confidence and reduced success for women and minorities considering and/or attempting to study computing.

Compounding the problem is the lack of technology professionals acting as role models and limited exposure to computing professions. Chute (2009) explained that female and minority students who have not been exposed to family members who are successful in technology-related fields are unlikely to be scheduled for math or computer science classes in high school. This was echoed at a 2005 conference held by the NSF (National Science Foundation [NSF], 2005) that reported that many current science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) professionals had family connections or other points of contact in STEM fields that helped to influence and support their decision to select and persist in STEM studies. The result is that underrepresented minority learners who lack family connections and other points of contact are at a disadvantage due to the lack of role models and support.

The digital divide remains a significant concern in the United States, with race/ ethnicity, income level, and education contributing to inequalities with the use of computers and reliable and expedient access to the internet (Morgan & VanLegen, 2005). Sax, Ceja, and Teranishi (2001) conducted a nationwide survey of college freshmen and found that level of technological preparedness varied significantly by race, class, and academic background. They explained that these technological disparities are a hindrance to students' academic success. Further, a 2007 study of 748 freshmen students at two public HBCUs, (Buzzetto-More & Sweat-Guy, 2007) found that while the number of students having studied computers had grown it was still significantly lower than what had been reported in the studies conducted at majority serving institutions.

Another problem is that when female and minority students arrive on college campuses they find a lack of women and minority faculty in STEM areas. Between 2002 and 2007, the number of underrepresented faculty in the top 100 departments for science and engineering increased by only 0.5 percent rising to 5 percent (Nealy, 2007). Nealy explains that "Underrepresented minorities are projected to constitute almost 32 percent of the American population by 2020; therefore, proactive steps should be taken now in order to insure that the proportionate inclusion of such a large part of the population in science and engineering, throughout all levels of academia," (Nealy, 2007, p. …