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Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity

NASA Title IX Compliance Program


What are NASA’s roles and responsibilities under Title IX?

Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 prohibits discrimination based on gender in education programs receiving federal financial assistance. NASA currently provides approximately $1 billion in federal funding to some 600 grant recipient institutions, many of them university and college science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs. As a federal agency awarding funding to educational programs, NASA developed Title IX regulations (14 C.F.R. Part 1253) to ensure that educational programs the agency funds afford equal opportunities to their beneficiaries, e.g., students, regardless of gender, and are free of gender discrimination and/or harassment.

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How does NASA conduct Title IX compliance reviews of its grantee institutions?

NASA regulations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, incorporated by reference in the agency’s Title IX regulations (14 C.F.R. § 1253.605) require the agency to review compliance among grant recipients. The regulatory mandate states that NASA “shall from time to time review the practices of recipients to determine whether they are complying with this part.” (14 C.F.R. § 1250.106).

Under the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 (42 U.S.C. § 16798(b)), NASA must conduct at least two Title IX reviews of its grant recipients annually). Section 619(b) of the NASA Authorization Act of 2005 states: “To comply with title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. 1681 et seq.), the [NASA] Administrator shall conduct compliance reviews of at least 2 grantees annually.”

In addition, in recent years, the issue of gender has become the focal point of a great deal of attention in STEM fields, where the numbers of women comparatively remain low (particularly in such fields as physics, aerospace and electrical engineering, and computer science).

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How does NASA select grantees for compliance reviews?

NASA selects recipients for compliance reviews based on a set of neutral selection criteria specified in our regulations (regulation citation). Once an institution has been selected, NASA notifies the head of the institution, identifying the regulatory authority under which the review will be conducted and the scope of the review, e.g., Title IX regulatory requirements applicable to the institution as a whole, department or program to be reviewed.

As NASA has received no Title IX complaints to date, none of the reviews was conducted in response to a complaint of discrimination.

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How does NASA assess compliance?

NASA’s Title IX compliance reviews are designed to determine whether the recipient’s policies, procedures and practices are consistent with the requirements of Title IX, the NASA Title IX regulations, and relevant U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Department of Education (ED) guidelines. Also, in an effort to fully promote voluntary compliance and to acknowledge innovative efforts on the part of educational institutions, NASA’s compliance reports provide technical assistance to strengthen existing compliance, as well as to identify promising practices. Areas of inquiry have included:

1. Title IX Coordinator‘s functioning and responsibilities (14 C.F.R. § 1253.135(a));

2. Title IX policy and dissemination (14 C.F.R. § 1253.140);

3. Title IX grievance procedures and the effectiveness of their implementation in addressing discrimination and/or harassment matters (14 C.F.R. § 1253.135(b));

4. Title IX self-evaluation efforts, specifically regarding recruitment and outreach practices, admission, enrollment and retention (14 C.F.R. § 1253.110(c));

5. Recipient policies and student experiences relating to the education program’s administration (see generally 1253 C.F.R. § 400), such as recruitment (14 C.F.R. § 1253.310); admission (14 C.F.R. § 1253.300); financial assistance (14 C.F.R. § 1253.430); academic advising/career counseling (14 C.F.R. § 1253.425); research participation and classroom experiences, parental/marital status (“family friendly”) policies (14 C.F.R. § 1253.445); and physical safety.

Prior to conducting the onsite phase of the review, NASA requests information and supporting documentation regarding the areas of inquiry. We also request statistical data targeted to the program under review and broken down by gender, such as data on applications, enrollment, financial assistance in the form of teaching and research assistantships, qualifying exams and participation rates in laboratory opportunities, e.g., telescope time logs.

During the onsite phase of the review, NASA conducts one-on-one interviews with the school’s Title IX Coordinator, the head of the program under review, program faculty, and students. The interviews are designed to help NASA assess the effectiveness of the Title IX coordinator’s efforts, particularly regarding proper dissemination of information about his or her office, and the functioning of the internal grievance procedures. Interviews with faculty and students also help NASA to examine possible limitations to program participation based on gender. To this end, the interviews focus on program administration and student experiences regarding recruitment, outreach, the application process, career/counseling and student advising, classroom experiences and lab participation, and physical safety of the program environment.

Based on information gathered prior to and during the onsite, NASA issues a compliance letter and a detailed report of the review. This review assesses compliance and highlights promising practices for increasing women’s participation in STEM. NASA may offer technical assistance to strengthen existing compliance and/or enhance current equal opportunity efforts.

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What kinds of technical assistance has NASA offered to grantees?

One of NASA's goals in conducting these reviews is to promote voluntary compliance in these programs. Accordingly, NASA works with the institutions to bring about such compliance when needed. In addition, where institutions could strengthen existing compliance, NASA hasprovided detailed technical assistance in the form of proposed options for enhancing equal opportunity efforts. Some examples include:
-  NASA has recommended better dissemination of information regarding the Title IX Coordinator where we have found that program students are not familiar with the name or the office of the Title IX Coordinator;

- NASA has recommended improvements to recipients’ internal grievance processes where we have found such processes can be improved along the lines recommended by DOJ and/or ED, e.g., wide dissemination of procedures, letting students and faculty know that they can file a complaint with the Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights. 

- Some of the institutions do not promote gender diversity on their program websites, e.g., showing only male faculty and students.  Accordingly, NASA has recommended that schools review their outreach and information materials to address this.

- Institutions are required to conduct self-evaluations regarding employment, admissions and treatment of students.  Many schools, including those we have reviewed, had not recently conducted such Title IX self-evaluations.  However, the programs selected for compliance reviews have engaged in a thorough self-evaluation process in response to NASA's information request and on-site review. NASA has recommended that these programs conduct ongoing departmental self-evaluation regarding admissions, enrollment, graduation rates, financial aid, and treatment of students to ensure equal opportunity on the basis of gender.

 - At some schools, students have reported safety concerns.  Such concerns could potentially limit program participation on the basis of gender.  NASA has recommended the institutions do more to better ensure student safety, such as provide for better lighting in parking lots near program buildings, and better disseminate information regarding available services, such as night-time transportation.

- NASA looks to ensure that recipients are in compliance with the Title IX regulatory requirements pertaining to parental status, which prohibit pregnancy discrimination and require that pregnancy and childbirth be treated in the same manner and under the same policies as any other temporary disability or physical condition. In keeping with these provisions, NASA requires its recipients to have appropriate parental status policies and to ensure the policies are adequately disseminated among faculty and students in NASA-funded programs.

- Where allegations of inappropriate gender-related remarks and conduct were raised during student and/or faculty interviews, NASA recommended the department take appropriate steps to look into the allegations and provide additional and more effective anti-harassment training for faculty and teaching assistants.

- NASA is incorporating recommendations in its Title IX compliance review reports to ensure that NASA funded institutions have in place Title IX policy and procedures consistent with the Department of Education’s recent policy guidance on harassing conduct, bullying and sexual violence and assault, and that the institutions are taking steps to ensure appropriate dissemination and education and awareness opportunities campus-wide.

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What steps would NASA take if an institution were found to be non-compliant?

In accordance with Department of Justice and NASA regulations, NASA would make every effort to bring the school into voluntary compliance. For example, NASA might enter into a written voluntary compliance agreement with the school. NASA would not move to impose the ultimate sanction of funding withdrawal unless all efforts to bring the school into voluntary compliance failed. (See 14 C.F.R. § 1253.605, incorporating the investigative, compliance, and enforcement procedural provisions of NASA regulations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000d) at 14 CFR 1250.105 through 1250.110).

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What promising practices has NASA found among grantees?

The promising practices reported by NASA were already in place at the schools reviewed. NASA plans to compile the promising practices into a publication for dissemination to all NASA grant recipients. A small sampling of these includes:

Accessible Program Leadership. A STEM program (aerospace engineering) whose efforts to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students include regular town hall meetings hosted by the department chair. The chair uses these gatherings, in part, to publicly honor students who are doing excellent work. The town hall meetings also afford opportunities for open dialogue and recognition of students, helping the program to demonstrate its commitment to inclusion and value its diversity.

Classroom Experiences. A STEM program (aerospace engineering) provides a survey course consciously designed to appeal to a broadly diverse group of students. The course includes numerous presentations from professionals in the field, and is a means of providing role models for students interested in pursuing careers in engineering. The course also addresses the practical applications, or service orientation, suggested in the research literature as a means of appealing to a more diverse group of students considering the engineering field.

Family Friendly Policies. Some examples of an institutional commitment to family-friendly policies include: family housing for students with children, and on-site day care; a Work/Life Resource Center that provides services and resources to assist faculty, staff, and students during pregnancy and in obtaining child care and flexible work schedules; and family friendly programs for students, including permitting graduate students to take up to one year leave of absence for childbearing and dependent care.

Effective Training. To provide effective training on gender-related issues, a university utilizes short plays performed by actors and acting students, aimed at generating dialogue on gender issues among graduate students and faculty, including STEM programs. The plays include sketches on mentoring, faculty meetings, faculty searches, and the tenure decision-making process. Among the sketches they regularly perform is “Gender in the Classroom,” which treats issues of gender bias that may arise in the classroom setting. Following performance of the sketch, there is a facilitated dialogue with the audience. Student instructors and faculty report that the sketches have had a very positive impact on their recognition of and ability to deal with gender bias in the classroom. The engineering program requires prospective graduate student instructors to attend an orientation before assuming their teaching duties.

Outreach and Recruitment. A STEM program (aerospace engineering) assists with programs sponsored and conducted by a fully-funded Women in Engineering (WIE) office, providing faculty (both male and female) to speak with prospective students about the aerospace engineering undergraduate curriculum and the profession as a whole, participating in a number of outreach programs to junior high school and high school students and prospective majors, and committing resources to its recruitment and outreach efforts, including a full-time Recruitment and Outreach Coordinator.

Periodic Self-evaluation. A STEM program (physics) regularly conducts graduate program surveys sent to accepted students who decline enrollment to the program. The survey asks students who decided not to attend their primary reason for declining, any improvements that can be made to the program’s Open House, and the school they decided to attend instead, helping the program to, among other things, make more informed decisions on ways to increase its gender diversity.

Other examples of promising practices in this regard include: routine review of program practices, e.g., admissions, and program statistical data broken down by gender, exit surveys of graduating students and course evaluations that include questions on gender issues such as perception/observation on whether harassing conduct is occurring and/or being tolerated.

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In what other Title IX related activities is NASA involved?

NASA participated as a sponsoring agency in the first Federal Interagency Title IX Symposium: Gender Equity in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), a one day event in Washington, DC in July 2008. The sponsoring agencies included the member agencies of the Interagency Title IX Working Group (U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and NASA). The Symposium was designed to provide Federal employees with Title IX enforcement responsibilities and opportunity to share with and learn from leaders in the field of postsecondary education Title IX compliance, including Federal officials, academic experts, universities and nonprofits, and interactive sessions addressing issues relevant to gender in STEM. To this end, participants heard presentations on and engaged in interactive learning sessions on such topics as the climate for women in Physics programs, strategies for evaluating recipient grievance procedures, and specific steps academic institutions have taken to address gender bias and barriers.

In September 2008, NASA forwarded a publication containing its civil rights regulations and policy guidance to its educational grant recipients. In October 2005 and again in January 2009, NASA forwarded copies of its brochure and poster on non-discrimination and equal opportunity in NASA assisted programs to its grant recipients.

In July 2009, ODEO published Title IX and STEM: Promising Practices for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (PDF 24 MB), a compilation of all of the positive efforts NASA has seen regarding gender and STEM at the universities reviewed through the compliance policy. ODEO has provided the publication to NASA’s educational grant recipients and other stakeholders, including other grant-awarding Federal agencies and professional organizations such as the Society of Women Engineers.

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Last Updated: February 12, 2016
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