Research in Higher Education

, Volume 45, Issue 4, pp 353-381

First online:

Ethnic and Gender Differences in Science Graduation at Selective Colleges with Implications for Admission Policy and College Choice

  • Frederick L. SmythAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Virginia Email author 
  • , John J. McArdleAffiliated withUniversity of Virginia

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Using Bowen and Bok's data from 23 selective colleges, we fit multilevel logit models to test two hypotheses with implications for affirmative action and group differences in attainment of science, math, or engineering (SME) degrees. Hypothesis 1, that differences in precollege academic preparation will explain later SME graduation disparities, was fully supported with respect to the outcome gap between Whites and underrepresented minorities, partially supported for that between Asians and underrepresented minorities, and between men and women. Hypothesis 2, that college selectivity, after accounting for student characteristics, will be positively associated with SME persistence, was not supported. We demonstrate that the significance of the selectivity effect is overestimated when unilevel models are used. Admission officials are advised to carefully consider the relative academic preparedness of science-interested students, and such students choosing among colleges are advised to compare their academic qualifications to those of successful science students at each institution.

affirmative action college selectivity engineering gender mathematics minorities SAT science