Women graduate at a higher rate than men
By Karen Kaplan
The graduation rate for women seven years after entering MIT has been consistently higher than the average rate for the entire undergraduate student body over the past 19 years, sometimes by as much as five percent, according to statistics released by the registrar, David S. Wiley '61.
The statistics also indicate that the overall graduation rate has increased from around 85 percent to 90 percent. Graduation statistics are calculated over seven years because many students take leaves of absence, according to Wiley.
"Women sometimes perceive themselves at MIT to have been admitted by chance or by accident. The data clearly shows that [the admission of women is] not a fluke," said Elizabeth S. Johnson, associate director of admissions for information services and research.
"Women have tended to feel, for no good reason, that MIT has dipped to admit women," said Bonny S. Kellermann '72, president of the Association of MIT Alumnae and associate director of admissions. "The evidence shows that women who come here are every bit, if not more, successful as the men who come here."
Nationwide, women score lower on average than men on standardized tests, Johnson said. She would not comment on the relative test scores of women and men admitted to MIT.
Dean for Student Affairs Arthur C. Smith added that "on a number of occasions when I have seen the data, the average [cumulative grade point averages] of graduating women was slightly higher than that for graduating men." Although he said the difference was not "significant," he said that combined with the graduation figures, "it suggests that we may have been somewhat conservative in admitting women, perhaps because of over-reliance on SAT scores."
For the Classes of 1972, 1973 and 1974 combined, the seven-year graduation rate for women was 89 percent, while the comparable rate for the entire student body was 84 percent. For the Class of 1981, the seven-year graduation rate for the women was 82 percent, while the rate for the entire class was 84 percent, the only year in which the women's rate was not at least one percent higher than the overall rate.
For most years, the graduation rate for women is three percent higher than the graduation rate for the total student body. The four-year graduation rate for the women of the Class of 1990 is at 86 percent, while the rate for the class as a whole is 79 percent.
Because women are included in the overall seven-year rates for each class, the actual graduation rates for women are even higher compared to men than the statistics represent.
"This gap has maintained itself even as the number of women in the student body has gone up," said Wiley.
Students who are admitted to graduate schools and other combined degree programs, including the engineering internship programs, but have not officially received their bachelors degrees are counted among the graduated students.
Professor of Brain and Cognitive Science and Director of the Women's Studies Program Susan Carey said that she does not find the discrepancy surprising. "I think that the undergraduate women and men are slightly different populations. The women are more self-selective because it's so much more unusual for them to come here," she explained. "The women who come here are already bucking different stereotypes."
Kellermann's hypothesis is that "women have better survival skills. They are more willing to ask for help if they need it." She suggested that the women who come to MIT are also more self-motivated.
"The statistics are important from the point of view that they dispel stereotypes about women and men," Carey added.
Overall graduation rates
have risen as well
The statistics also indicate that the overall graduation rate seems to have increased by about five percentage points since 1984.
Between 1972 and 1983, the rate hovered around 85 percent, reaching a low of 84 percent for the Classes of 1972-1974, and 1981 and reaching a high of 87 percent for the Class of 1982. After 1984, that rate jumped to 90 percent, with a low of 88 percent in 1986.
The six-year graduation rate for the Class of 1988 is already at 90 percent, and the five-year rate for the Class of 1989 is 89 percent. Both of these rates are expected to top 90 percent by the seven-year mark. At 79 percent, the four-year rate for the Class of 1990 is higher than the four-year rate for classes before 1987.
"I know the graduation rate at most schools is lower [than 90 percent]," Wiley said. "At some big state schools, the rate is around 50 or 40 percent." He said the graduation rate for the Ivy League colleges is also around 90 percent, "so we're right up there at the top now."
"The rise is a credit to the quality of our students, programs and faculty," Wiley continued.
Smith said his "best guess" for the rise in graduation rates is that "it reflects choices made by students more than it does any changes in Institute standards, procedures or admissions policy. If you look at the admitted class, you would expect everyone to graduate," he continued.