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SWE Responds to the Department of Education’s Priorities for STEM Grant Funding

Today, in addition to making general comments with the STEM ED Coalition, SWE provided the following comment to the Department of Education.
Washington Update: Looking Forward To 2017

Last month, the Department of Education proposed supplemental priorities for discretionary grant programs, including various initiatives around funding for STEM education and classroom instruction. Click here to read the full text of these priorities via Docket ED–2017–OS–0078. The Department of Education announced it would accept comments to ED–2017–OS–0078 through a public comment process through 11/10/2017. Today, in addition to making general comments with the STEM ED Coalition, SWE provided the following comment to the Department of Education.


November 8, 2017

Ms. Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW., Room 6W231
Washington, DC 20202

Comments submitted via

RE: Docket ID: ED-2017-OS-0078

Dear Ms. Bell-Ellwanger:

With nearly 40,000 members across the world, the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) advocates for public policies that promote equity in research and the classroom, foster excellence and access to quality opportunities in the workforce, and ensure that women and girls graduating high school and college leave with the skills and knowledge that support success in their professional, academic and personal aspirations.

To support a thriving US economy, every student needs to have a strong foundation in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects.  This foundation will allow them to land and succeed virtually anywhere – from the shop floor to the research lab to the boardroom. It is more evident than ever that high-paying jobs in the STEM fields must be filled substantially by women to meet the country’s economic and infrastructure goals. Enabling our students, particularly our women and girls, to compete in the global economy requires a strong federal commitment to improved access to quality teaching and learning in the STEM fields.

Federally-supported programs important to women in science and engineering and the young women who end up in these crucial fields are found across the federal agencies, including the Department of Education (ED).  While SWE appreciates the effort made by Secretary Betsy DeVos and ED to place an emphasis on the promotion of STEM skills for underrepresented communities, we recommend the following improvements to ED-2017-OS-0078:

  1. That the need for a strong educational pathway towards engineering careers be placed on par with that of computer science (CS).
  2. That the education of girls, especially those from minority populations traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields, those from resource-poor rural and urban areas, and those with low-economic status, is consistently referenced and supported throughout the competitive grantmaking process affected by the proposed priorities.
  3. That meaningful family engagement must prioritize the elimination of discriminatory school policies against women and girls and ensure the strong enforcement of Title IX protections, including those meant to address and prevent sex and gender-based harassment.

The justification for recommendation #1:

The same arguments made for CS education within the ED-2017-OS-0078 guidelines apply to engineering education.  Like CS, engineering is a field that is also projected to have both long-term and significant job growth and a need for a better talent pipeline to meet the needs of the country’s technological and manufacturing workforce. To that end, we are concerned that the focus and background of priority 6 (Promoting… (STEM) Education, With a Particular Focus on Computer Science) is skewed disproportionately toward the developments of CS skills, which both CS and STEM advocates would agree constitutes only a fraction of STEM learning. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, (2014):

Job growth from 2014 to 2024 in engineering will yield over 500,000 open positions. In the same time, the need for post-secondary engineer teachers will grow by 13.2% with over 14,000 open positions. While the field of engineering is growing, there is not a strong pipeline of domestic employees with STEM knowledge to fill the labor gap (Litzler, Samuelson, and Lorah 2014; Jiang and Freeman 2011).

Enabling our students, particularly our women and girls, to compete in the global economy requires a strong federal commitment to improved teaching and learning in the STEM fields, with an emphasis on engineering in addition to CS skills.

The justification for recommendation #2:

In the background of proposed priority 6 it is stated that: “we must expand the capacity of our elementary and secondary schools to provide all students, including girls, students of color, and others historically underrepresented in STEM fields, with engaging and meaningful opportunities, both in and outside the classroom, to develop knowledge and competencies in these subjects.” SWE support that intention. However, it is unclear to us why sub-priority 6(d) includes expanding access for traditionally underrepresented students such as racial or ethnic minorities, women, or students in communities served by rural local educational agencies but sub-priority 6(e) does not mention expanding access to STEM coursework for those same categories of students. Further, both sub-priorities should include the consideration of socioeconomic factors in the competitive award process.  The emphasis on rural areas—a geography-driven preference, without a similar emphasis on often disadvantaged urban areas is troubling.  The insertion of socioeconomic elements that dictate preference in awards would level the playing field between the two geographic areas that struggle to meet the needs of the students they serve.

Further, the current pipeline of engineering talent does not represent women, who are the majority of college graduates:

  • Women represent over 57 percent of college graduates but are only 18.4 percent of the engineers entering the workforce.
  • Additionally, only 14 percent of all engineers are women.
  • While the number of women entering college and the workforce continues to grow (Hughes 2013), according to the U.S. Department of Education, only 18.4% of those entering engineer bachelor’s degree programs are women, and less than five percent are underrepresented minority women.

It is therefore critical that the engineering pipeline include women in every way. Without this inclusivity, the talent pipeline to meet the demand for the engineering profession within the United States is weakened. Access to STEM courses should be prioritized for all of the categories of students identified in Priority 1(b) in the federal register notice to ensure that all students receive access to resources, classes, and foundational skills necessary to be successful STEM professionals, especially in engineering.

The justification for recommendation #3:

SWE appreciates the inclusion of Priority 9—Promoting Economic Opportunity and its focus on building greater effective family engagement and creating partnerships between schools, LEAs, and community-based organizations to provide supports to families. With a membership of nearly 40,000, SWE prioritizes equal protections and access to education for our community.

Effective family engagement can come in many forms and it is our hope that the Department of Education will prioritize grant funding to states and districts that find solutions to engage all parents, especially those from underrepresented minorities in STEM, those from resource-poor rural and urban areas, and those with low economic status.

Lastly, SWE takes issue with the inclusion of sub-priority (i) in Priority 6.  “Utilizing technology to provide access to educational choice” conflates the use of technology to deliver education with learning STEM and other technology skills.  This sub-priority addresses expanding school choice options, not the teaching and learning of STEM and computer science.  It belongs in Priority 1, not Priority 6.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this feedback in the important process of defining priorities for the Department of Education’s competitive grant programs.  If you have any questions about these comments, SWE, our members, or the importance of nurturing interest in engineering and STEM subjects among young women, please contact Honna George at or by phone at 312-967-1110.


Karen Horting
Executive Director & CEO
Society of Women Engineers


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