Despite popular opinion, the flow of qualified mathematics and science students through the American education pipeline is strong—except among high-achievers, who appear to be defecting to other college majors and fields.
That is the provocative conclusion of a study released last week, which disputes the idea, voiced by many policymakers and others, that students are leaving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, called STEM, because they lack preparation or ability.
The authors, B. Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University in Washington and Harold Salzman of New Jerseys Rutgers University, analyzed several longitudinal data sets and found that overall retention in STEM majors and careers remained robust among three generations of students studied from the 1970s through the past decade, with the exception of those in the top tier. Elite students may regard non-STEM fields, such as finance, as more stable or prestigious, the authors speculate; or they may enter related jobs that are not officially categorized as STEM. Their findings are consistent with their previous research, which found that schools produce a sufficient amount of STEM talent, but that much of it is lost in graduate studies and the workforce.
A version of this article appeared in the November 04, 2009 edition of Education Week as The ‘Stem’ Pipeline