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Women in STEM: does college boost their performance?


This article uses an added value measure to assess the gender-specific impact of attending a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) program. Using the results of the mandatory Colombian national exit exams, we compare the math and reading scores at the end of high school and at the end of college by gender. A difference-in-differences technique combined with propensity score matching is used to address selection bias. We find that the gender-related achievement gap in math and reading scores increases after college affecting women. The gap is larger for those individuals studying a STEM major in comparison with a non-STEM major. Moreover, we find that the gender gap is higher in public and accredited universities.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    For a comprehensive review of the literature on gender and academic choice refer to Yazilitas et al. (2013), Clark Blickenstaff and Blickenstaff (2005), Galeshi (2013) and Castillo and Montes-Berges (2014)

  2. 2.

    Law 3963 of 2009, enacted by Colombian Ministry of Education.

  3. 3.

    Technical and technological programs are different from professional programs in terms of duration and learning goals. The first having a duration between 1.5 to 3 years whereas professionals between 4 to 6. Moreover, technical and technological programs are mainly offered by technical institutions instead of universities and they emphasis in applications more than theory and research.

  4. 4.

    For a comprehensive review of value-added models, including its benefits and limitations, please refer to Koedel et al. (2015).

  5. 5.

    van de Walle and Mu (2007) use this approach to estimate the impact of rural road rehabilitation on market development at the commune level in rural Vietnam.


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We would like to thank Hugo Ñopo (GRADE) and the seminar participants at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana for their very valuable comments and suggestions. We would also like to thank Jorge Lagos for his work as a research assistant during this project.


This research was supported by a grant from the Instituto Colombiano para la Evaluación (ICFES).

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Correspondence to Silvia C. Gomez Soler.

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Gomez Soler, S.C., Abadía Alvarado, L.K. & Bernal Nisperuza, G.L. Women in STEM: does college boost their performance?. High Educ 79, 849–866 (2020).

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  • Exit exams
  • STEM
  • Value-added
  • Gender differences