Report: STEM attrition in college often occurs because students not prepared for the challenge

28 Nov

Moi wrote in The role economic class plays in college success: Moi wrote in Race, class, and education in America:
Many educators have long recognized that the impact of social class affects both education achievement and life chances after completion of education. There are two impacts from diversity, one is to broaden the life experience of the privileged and to raise the expectations of the disadvantaged. Social class matters in not only other societies, but this one as well.
A few years back, the New York Times did a series about social class in America. That series is still relevant. Janny Scott and David Leonhardt’s overview, Shadowy Lines That Still Divide describes the challenges faced by schools trying to overcome the disparity in education. The complete series can be found at Social Class

Jason DeParle reported in the New York Times article, For Poor Strivers, Leap to College Often Ends in a Hard Fall:

“Everyone wants to think of education as an equalizer — the place where upward mobility gets started,” said Greg J. Duncan, an economist at the University of California, Irvine. “But on virtually every measure we have, the gaps between high- and low-income kids are widening. It’s very disheartening.”
The growing role of class in academic success has taken experts by surprise since it follows decades of equal opportunity efforts and counters racial trends, where differences have narrowed. It adds to fears over recent evidence suggesting that low-income Americans have lower chances of upward mobility than counterparts in Canada and Western Europe.
Thirty years ago, there was a 31 percentage point difference between the share of prosperous and poor Americans who earned bachelor’s degrees, according to Martha J. Bailey and Susan M. Dynarski of the University of Michigan. Now the gap is 45 points.
While both groups improved their odds of finishing college, the affluent improved much more, widening their sizable lead.
Likely reasons include soaring incomes at the top and changes in family structure, which have left fewer low-income students with the support of two-parent homes. Neighborhoods have grown more segregated by class, leaving lower-income students increasingly concentrated in lower-quality schools. And even after accounting for financial aid, the costs of attending a public university have risen 60 percent in the past two decades. Many low-income students, feeling the need to help out at home, are deterred by the thought of years of lost wages and piles of debt….
Income has always shaped academic success, but its importance is growing. Professor Reardon, the Stanford sociologist, examined a dozen reading and math tests dating back 25 years and found that the gap in scores of high- and low-income students has grown by 40 percent, even as the difference between blacks and whites has narrowed.
While race once predicted scores more than class, the opposite now holds. By eighth grade, white students surpass blacks by an average of three grade levels, while upper-income students are four grades ahead of low-income counterparts.

Social class and background may not only affect an individual student’s choice of major, but their completion of college in that major.

Nick De Santis reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education article, Report Examines College Students’ Attrition From STEM Majors:

Twenty-eight percent of bachelor’s-degree students who began their postsecondary education in the 2003-4 academic year chose a major in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics at some point within six years, but 48 percent of students who entered those fields during that period had left them by the spring of 2009, according to a report released on Tuesday by the National Center for Education Statistics, the U.S. Education Department’s statistical arm.
The report, which addresses attrition from the so-called STEM fields, also includes information on students pursuing associate degrees. It says that 20 percent of such students had chosen a STEM major within that six-year period and notes that 69 percent of them had left the STEM fields by the spring of 2009.
Of the students who left STEM fields, the report says, roughly half switched their major to a non-STEM field, and the rest left college without earning a degree or certificate. The report notes that fields such as the humanities and education experienced higher levels of attrition than did the STEM disciplines.
The report identifies several factors associated with a higher probability of switching out of STEM majors, such as taking lighter STEM course loads or less-challenging math classes in the first year, and earning lower grades in STEM courses than in others….


Title: STEM Attrition: College Students’ Paths Into and Out of STEM Fields
Description: This Statistical Analysis Report presents the most recent national statistics on beginning bachelor’s and associate’s degree students’ entrance into, and attrition from, STEM fields. Using recent transcript data, it provides a first look at STEM coursetaking and examines how participation and performance in undergraduate STEM coursework, along with other factors, are associated with STEM attrition. The study is based on data from the 2004/09 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:04/09) and the associated 2009 Postsecondary Education Transcript Study (PETS:09).

ERRATA: A typographical error has been found on page vi of the report’s Executive Summary. The affected line should read:

“Bachelor’s degree STEM entrants who were male or who came from low-income backgrounds had a higher probability of leaving STEM by dropping out of college than their peers who were female or came from high-income backgrounds, net of other factors.”

A revised version of the report will be posted when available under the publication number 2014001rev.
Online Availability: • Download, view and print the report as a pdf file. (1527KB)
Need Help Viewing PDF files?

Cover Date: November 2013
Web Release: November 26, 2013
Publication #: NCES 2014001REV
Center/Program: NCES

Authors: Xianglei Chen
Type of Product: Statistical Analysis Report

Survey/Program Areas: Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS)

Keywords: Beginning students in postsecondary education
Postsecondary education
• field of study
• outcomes
• persistence and attainment
STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology, Mathematics)

Questions: For questions about the content of this Statistical Analysis Report, please contact:
Aurora M. D’Amico.

Megan Rogers wrote in the Inside Higher Ed article, STEM-ming the Tide:

About 28 percent of bachelor’s degree candidates and 20 percent of associate degree candidates had declared a STEM major. Of those who had entered a STEM program, 48 percent of bachelor’s degree candidates had left the STEM field by spring 2009. The attrition rate was greater for associate degree candidates — 69 percent of STEM entrants had left the STEM field during the course of the study. An October 2012 report tracking students who had entered postsecondary education in the 2003-2004 academic year found the same attrition rate for STEM entrants.
The attrition rate was highest for bachelor’s degree candidates who declared a major in computer/information sciences and for associate degree candidates who declared a major in mathematics.
About half of those who left had switched into a non-STEM degree program and the other half had left college without earning any degree or certificate. The study found that 22 percent of bachelor’s degree candidates and 16 percent of associate’s degree students chose to pursue business majors.
Low-performing students (those with an overall grade point average below 2.5) were more likely to exit the STEM field by dropping out of college than were high-performing students (those with an overall GPA of 3.5 or higher). The high-performing students were more likely to switch to a non-STEM major than their low-performing peers.
The study found some differences in how men and women exited the STEM fields. More men than women left STEM disciplines by dropping out of college and more women than men left STEM by switching majors. According to the study, 32 percent of women who left STEM fields switched to a different major, compared with 26 percent of men. And 24 percent of men left the STEM field by dropping out of college, compared with 14 percent of women.
Taking lighter credits loads in STEM courses in the first year, taking less challenging math courses in the first year and performing poorly in STEM classes relative to non-STEM classes were associated with an increased probability of switching majors for STEM entrants, according to the study….

K-12 education must not only prepare students by teaching basic skills, but they must prepare students for training after high school, either college or vocational. There should not only be a solid education foundation established in K-12, but there must be more accurate evaluation of whether individual students are “college ready.”


Helping community college students to graduate

The digital divide affects the college application process

College readiness: What are ‘soft skills’

Colleges rethinking who may need remedial education

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