Archive for February 18, 2010

Graduation Gaps for Science Majors: Whose fault is it?

The good news: students hoping to major in STEM fields are growing as a proportion of the overall student population, reaching Cold War-era levels of interest. The bad news: students who start out planning to major in STEM fields graduate at far lower rates than their non-STEM classmates, especially if they’re black, Latino or Native American. “We’re seeing this increase over the last 15 years in students’ interest in STEM fields,” said Eagan, a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA, “but we’re not seeing a corresponding increase in students’ graduation rates.”

via News: Graduation Gaps for Science Majors – Inside Higher Ed.

In other words, we’re getting a lot more interest in CS-STEM (Yay!), but they’re leaving or flunking out before graduating (Boo!).  Why is that?  (By the way, “CS-STEM” is the term that DARPA is promoting to represent Computer Science + Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.)  The HERI@UCLA study that this cites explicitly does include computer science.

I found the comment thread really interesting on this piece.  Whose fault is it?  Some of the commentors suggest that it’s the fault of the high schools.  Students are unprepared upon entering a CS-STEM degree program, so they leave.  Others say that it’s the College classes.  The blame doesn’t lie with the faculty, some say, but the budget which keeps faculty from doing things that engage students (like lab activities and undergraduate research).  David Brooks, as mentioned here previously, lays the blame at the feet of the faculty who aren’t doing enough to support the lower-ability student (perhaps underprepared, perhaps without reasonable expectations because they’re the first in their family to go to College).

The author of the piece blames the Colleges, and points out that it’s the minority students who are hurting the most:

Instead, much of that blame lies with the nation’s colleges and universities for deterring students somewhere between freshman year and the completion of a bachelor’s degree in four or five years, he said. “Something that happens in college – and it goes beyond just preparation – is losing students.”

A third of white students and 42 percent of Asian-American students who started college as intended STEM majors graduated with STEM degrees by the end of five years. For underrepresented minorities, the five-year completion rates were much lower — 22.1 percent for Latino students, 18.4 percent for black students and 18.8 percent for Native American students. Some of those students may have still graduated in four or five years but changed to a non-STEM major or transferred out of the institution they entered as freshmen. Others may still be working on their degrees.

To hit the goals that Barack Obama has set out for graduating students, we need to understand better why we are losing so many students, and how to correct that.

February 18, 2010 at 9:38 am 6 comments


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