Gender Issues:

Women's Participation in the Sciences Has Increased, but Agencies Need to Do More to Ensure Compliance with Title IX

GAO-04-639: Published: Jul 22, 2004. Publicly Released: Jul 22, 2004.

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Cornelia M. Ashby
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Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 extended protections against sex discrimination to students and employees at institutions receiving federal assistance for educational programs or activities. In the 32 years since Title IX was enacted, women have made significant gains in many fields, but much attention has focused on women's participation in the sciences. Because of the concern about women's access to opportunities in the sciences, which receive billions of dollars in federal assistance, this report addresses: (1) how do the Department of Education (Education), the Department of Energy (Energy), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) ensure that federal grant recipient institutions comply with Title IX in math, engineering, and science; (2) what do data show about women's participation in these fields; and (3) what promising practices exist to promote their participation?

Four federal science agencies have made efforts to ensure that grantees comply with Title IX in the sciences by performing several compliance activities, such as investigating complaints and providing technical assistance, but most have not conducted all required monitoring activities. Agency officials at Energy, NASA, and NSF told us that they refer complaints to Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where they are investigated. However, only Education has monitored its grantees by conducting compliance reviews--periodic, agency-initiated assessments of grantees to determine if they are complying with Title IX. Women's participation in the sciences has increased substantially in the last three decades, especially in the life sciences, such as biology. The proportion of women science students has grown, but to a lesser extent at the graduate level than the undergraduate level. Meanwhile, the proportion of faculty in the sciences who are women has also increased, but they still lag behind men faculty in terms of salary and rank. However, studies indicate that experience, work patterns, and education levels can largely explain these differences. Studies also suggest that discrimination may still affect women's choices and professional progress. We found several examples of agencies and grantees that have instituted practices designed to foster greater women's participation in the sciences. While some of the practices are aimed at encouraging more women to pursue the sciences, others provide time off and fewer teaching duties so faculty can balance work and family life. Finally, a few practices seek to expand the recruiting pool for jobs in the sciences and make them more attractive to a greater portion of the U.S. population, including women.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Energy has established procedures for conducting compliance reviews under Title IX. Specifically, the department has established selection criteria, developed procedures for compliance reviews, and established a Title IX compliance review team. Staff have been trained, selection criteria have been applied, and in December 2005, Energy conducted its first compliance review under these new procedures.

    Recommendation: To fully comply with Title IX regulations, the Secretary of Energy and Director of NSF should ensure that compliance reviews of grantees are periodically conducted.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NSF is now in compliance with Title IX regulations after it conducted a compliance review in December 2005. Additionally, NSF is continuing to work with other federal agencies with the hope of coordinating a government-wide approach to Title IX reviews.

    Recommendation: To fully comply with Title IX regulations, the Secretary of Energy and Director of NSF should ensure that compliance reviews of grantees are periodically conducted.

    Agency Affected: National Science Foundation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: NASA has taken several actions to ensure periodic compliance reviews of grantees. The agency reviewed and identified four grant recipient institutions (University of California at Los Angeles, University of Colorado at Boulder, University of Maryland at College Park, and University of Michigan at Ann Arbor) using a specific set of objective, neutral criteria consistent with Department of Justice guidelines and relevant case law for on-site Title IX reviews in FY 2006 and FY 2007. In November 2005, the agency notified the grant recipients that NASA would be conducting a Title IX review on their undergraduate Aerospace Engineering and Physics programs, including a review of best practices, and requested information on women's participation in these programs. Based in part on input and feedback received from senior managers at an April 2005 Title IX Technical Briefing, NASA developed a model plan for conducting Title IX on-site reviews, focusing on women's participation in NASA-assisted physics and engineering programs. In addition, NASA completed a two-year Title IX desk-audit review of about 200 NASA grant recipients (begun in December 2003) to gather information on recipients' compliance with Title IX regulatory requirements. The information will be used to create a database on recipients that includes, among other things, compliance status, best practices, problem areas for technical assistance, and potential as a candidate for on-site review. Of 183 institutions reviewed, 45% were found in full compliance with NASA Title IX requirements, 20% require more information to determine compliance, 30% were non-responsive, and 5% were non-jurisdictional for Title IX. Other agency actions include participating in an Interagency Task Force on Title IX compliance efforts among math and science agencies in July 2004 and developing and disseminating informational materials in 2005 to 200 select recipient institutions, designed to notify program beneficiaries of their rights and responsibilities on grant-related EO laws, such as Title IX.

    Recommendation: To fully comply with Title IX regulations, the Administrator of NASA should continue to implement its compliance review program to ensure that compliance reviews of grantees are periodically conducted.

    Agency Affected: National Aeronautics and Space Administration


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