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Countries around the world rely on the contributions of engineers to support national interests and maintain economic competitiveness. In the United States, government and industry leaders have long regarded engineers and other members of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce as vital to the nation's economy and security. It is hardly surprising, then, that issues surrounding student retention and persistence in engineering degree programs and the engineering workforce are of special interest to engineering educators.
Since the 1970s, federal policy and funding have specifically focused on attracting and retaining women and minorities in science and engineering fields. Yet progress has been halting. In one comprehensive study, the United States ranked 30th of 35 countries in the proportion of female Ph.D.s in engineering, manufacturing, and construction, and 24th of 30 with respect to growth in the proportion of female Ph.D.s in these sectors (European Commission, 2009, p. 51). In this chapter, we examine the influence of U.S. federal policy on engineering education over the past forty years, with special attention to the impact of efforts to increase the number of women and minorities in the STEM workforce.
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