CCE Theses and Dissertations


The Effect of the High School Environment on Encouraging Girls to Major in Computer Science

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences


Maxine S. Cohen

Committee Member

Timothy Ellis

Committee Member

Richard D. Manning


Women are severely underrepresented in high school and college computer science programs and in the computer industry. One prominent reason for girls not enrolling in high school and college computer classes is the overwhelming presence of boys in the classes. The male dominance causes many girls to become less confident in their ability to be successful in computer science. Recently, renewed interest in single-sex education has encouraged research in the value of all-female learning environments. All-girls schools tend to encourage girls to pursue areas of study that are typically male dominated. In particular, studies have shown that, in a coeducational school setting, boys often dominate computer labs which discourages girls from learning about computers. The purpose of this study was twofold. The first purpose was to determine if there is a difference in the computer curriculum offered in all-girls high schools and in coeducational high schools. The second purpose was to determine if girls attending all girls’ high schools have a different attitude towards computing and are more interested in majoring in computer science than girls in coeducational settings. The study consisted of two parts. The first part examined the computer curriculum of several all-girls and coeducational non-public high schools. Information was collected about each school's demographics, computer course offerings, and any school-sponsored computer-related activities. The second part of the study examined the computer attitudes and computer background of about 300 junior level girls enrolled in top-level math classes. About half of the girls were students in all-girls non-public high schools and the other half of the girls attended coeducational non-public high schools. The girls completed a questionnaire about their educational background in computers, their interest in majoring in computer science, and their attitude toward computers. The results of the study indicated that there was no significant difference in the number of different computer courses offered at the two types of schools. However, the all-girls schools tended to offer more basic application courses than the coeducational schools while the coeducational schools offered more computer science courses. Few girls from either type of school considered majoring in computer science, even though the girls in the all-girls schools had a significantly better attitude towards computers. Neither school environment impacted the girls' interest in majoring in computer science, but a positive attitude towards computers is a first step in enabling young women to pursue this field.

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