Where do our STEM students go?

By Stephanie Levi, Ph.D.

STEM-students-electronic-model-MEAEvery day, we hear from a variety of sources that we need to work to encourage participation in STEM by both the public and students.  Recruitment into STEM is a crucial part of achieving such participation, but retention is equally important.  If students lose interest in STEM after initially being excited about their involvement in science, technology, engineering and math – whether from a bad experience with a teacher, struggles with content, a lack of encouragement from family, or a lack of understanding of what careers might be ahead if they continue with their STEM interests – their ideas and direct contributions to STEM fields may be lost.  So, what happens when students leave STEM, particularly at the post-secondary level?  What are the reasons, who leaves, and when?   A new report seeks to answer these questions, and may be very helpful for those who work at the university level in particular.  The report, entitled “STEM Attrition: College Student’ Paths Into and Out of STEM Fields,” authored by Xianglei Chen for the National Center for Education Statistics, details the rates of attrition from STEM fields and non-STEM fields, characteristics of students who leave STEM fields, comparing the courses and performance of those who leave and persist in STEM, and an examination of the strength of different factors’ association with students’ leaving STEM, among other subjects.

The report offers data to get us thinking about factors that we may be able to influence to improve outcomes for students in STEM, using OST programs as vehicles for change.  You can download the report at the link above, and let us know what you think and what you’ve learned in the comments here, and on our LinkedIn page.  We’d love to hear from you!

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