Only 35% of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math students in higher education globally are women, according to recent data from the UNESCO Institute for Science, and that has a direct impact on the workforce. Even though women constitute about 50% of the total labor market, as of 2018 there were only 28% of women in STEM fields.
STEM has long been a man’s world, but many business schools are trying to change that. The latest to make headway is a public school in the southern United States, Georgia State University Robinson College of Business, which reports that women are flocking to its graduate programs in record numbers, including Robinson’s five STEM-designated master’s programs, where women comprise 53% of new enrollees. In the school’s “Flex” MBA — which has several STEM concentrations and which is ranked No. 28 overall and 16th among public schools in U.S. News’ 2020 part-time MBA ranking— the incoming cohort is 61% women. Robinson’s MBA population overall is now 54% women.
Across all of Robinson’s graduate programs, there are nearly 1,500 students. Half are women.
“Creating opportunities for students of all backgrounds to succeed in business is a defining passion for Robinson, and our incoming graduate class speaks volumes to our commitment,” says Richard Phillips, dean of the Robinson College.
7 PATHWAYS IN A HIGHLY RANKED MBA
In terms of sheer numbers, Atlanta-based Georgia State Robinson already was one of the top accredited U.S. business colleges for graduate enrollment, and it has only gotten bigger in the age of Covid-19. In preliminary figures for this fall (final numbers won’t be available until October), the school welcomed 862 new graduate students, a 78% increase over 2019’s incoming class of 484. That wave of new students enrolled in 14 different degree programs, including the Flex MBA and executive MBA, a dual-degree MBA/Master of Health Administration, 10 master of science programs, and an Executive Doctor of Business Administration. In all, Robinson has more than 1,500 students across all its undergraduate and graduate programs.
Not only is 2020 the largest graduate school class in Robinson’s history, it’s also the most diverse: More than half (51%) of U.S. students identify as racial or ethnic minorities that the Graduate Management Admission Council describes as underrepresented in graduate business education; of that number, 40% are Black or African American, 7% are Hispanic, 5% are multiracial, and 0.1% are American Indian, Alaskan Native or Native Hawaiian.
But Robinson’s big coup is in attracting so many women. Dean Phillips tells Poets&Quants that because there are limits on what a public school can offer in the way of gender-based scholarships, Robinson’s success comes to down approach.
“We haven’t gone out to say, ‘Let’s make sure we have gender parity,'” he says. “That’s not the intention. The intention is that we want to make sure that we can support and demonstrate that students of all backgrounds can show success in our graduate programs.
“And so the question is, how do you do that? And what you need to do is look at your systems and try to figure out why it is that certain groups struggle. Is it because they not have the raw intellectual ability to do graduate school? Or is there something systemically that’s stopping them — something in the way we’ve organized ourselves as an institution — that makes it hard for them to progress? Certain groups have different challenges than other groups. And if you study what it is that this group or that group has a challenge with, and then attack that problem, you make it possible for them to demonstrate what they’re capable of doing.
“And I’ll give you a simple example. Women, for a long time, were discouraged from studying science-based disciplines in undergraduate degrees or in high school. And so if they were discouraged from doing that in earlier eras of their education, then they’re not going to necessarily — from transcripts — be as well-prepared or have the profiles and backgrounds to present well in the traditional ways that we would look at from a graduate admissions perspective. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have the innate capabilities to do that. So that’s just a way that we’ve organized ourselves as an industry.”
A SECOND CHANCE IN ‘A SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT’
To counter the cultural obstacles that women face, Robinson has created seven career “pathways”; those who demonstrate an aptitude for STEM pre-term are admitted into STEM-based programs, Phillips says. This year that resulted in a huge boost to the school’s number of enrolled women.
“We’ve built what we call ‘pathway courses’ to give people,” Phillips says. “It doesn’t have to be just women, it could be anybody, but we’ve given people pathways to demonstrate what they’re capable of, and if they demonstrate that they’re capable of studying and having success in STEM-based disciplines and programs, then we can admit them on that basis into our STEM-based programs.
“Well, it just so happens that a lot of women are able to take those pathway programs, demonstrate that they’re capable of doing well in those programs, be admitted into those programs, and then continue on and have academic degree success.”
What do those pathways look like? Phillips offers an example.
“We have a computer coding course which is offered in the summer as a pathway course,” he says. “We also have a math and statistics pathway course that allows students to demonstrate what they’re capable of. A lot of times that’s because people didn’t study that as undergraduates, because they were discouraged, in a lot of cases, from doing that in earlier eras.
“But right now, given the way the economy is moving — in this digital era that we’re in today — there’s just tremendous demand from industry for those jobs. And we want to provide opportunities for people. ‘Who knew that this would be this important today? But I want a second chance.’ So we provide that in a supportive environment.”
Applications and acceptance rates for the past three MBA intakes, Georgia State Robinson
‘THE DIVERSITY THE UNIVERSITY OFFERS IS UNPARALLELED’
Because of coronavirus, Georgia State Robinson, like most B-schools, extended its deadlines and relaxed its testing criteria. The result was a boom in applications: nearly 3,000 across all graduate programs, of which the school offered admission to 1,770, for a 60% acceptance rate. In the Robinson MBA, preliminary numbers show the school receiving a whopping 764 apps, up from 405 the year before, a nearly 89% increase. The school admitted 473 for a 62% acceptance rate; 220 enrolled, among them 116 women, or 53%.
That’s up from 45% women in each of the last two fall intakes.
“It’s a trend that’s been building over time,” Phillips says.
Ana Contreras-Rodriguez is one of the women studying for a graduate degree at Georgia State Robinson. Pursuing a STEM-designated MS in Information Systems, she says the biggest risk she’s ever taken is “continuing my education after six years working in the field. My parents migrated from Mexico so I could have opportunities like this, and that motivates me to take risks and get out of my comfort zone.”
“I chose Robinson because I know I will be challenged and guided by some of the best professors,” Contreras-Rodriguez says. “Plus, the diversity the university offers is unparalleled.”
GEORGIA STATE NAMED SECOND-MOST INNOVATIVE UNIVERSITY
Georgia State University was ranked second on U.S. News’ 2020 list of Most Innovative Schools. Dean Phillips says that’s the result of a lot of hard work and dedication.
“It is largely based on student success initiatives and the reputation that the university has built over the last decade for working with students from different backgrounds and providing a supportive environment, and being able to work with nontraditional students or students with backgrounds that have historically not performed as well in higher education,” he says. “And it shows that we can create environments and support systems that will help them demonstrate what it is that they’re innately capable of doing in academic settings.
“We’re really proud because it’s the quality of those programs, too. They’re really, really high-quality academic programs that are very competitive to get into.”