Patterns in Studying ‘STEM’

By Sean Cavanagh — July 30, 2009 1 min read
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Students who commit to studying science, technology, engineering and math—the so called “STEM” topics—tend to be a fairly persistent lot.

Those who focus on STEM fields have a higher rate of completing a bachelor’s degree program, 35 percent, compared to the overall student population, at 29 percent, according to a new report released by the National Center for Education Statistics. The science-and-math crowd also was less likely to leave college without completing any degree, the report says. And among students who were focused on STEM fields entering college between the 1995-1996 school year and 2001, 53 percent of them either completed a degree or were still enrolled in studies in those areas.

Those numbers might not strike people who worry about the science and math skills of U.S. students as especially encouraging. Yet they also seem to suggest a certain academic-stick-to-it-ness among students who are keen on those subjects. At least, compared to their peers.

The study is based on longitudinal data, collected from 12,000 first-time college students, who were interviewed at various points between 1995 and 2001. A few other tidbits from the study:

—The percentage of men, 33 percent, entering STEM studies was much higher than it was for women, 14 percent, particularly in engineering and computer and information sciences;

—Asian-Americans were by far the most likely to choose STEM studies, at 47 percent, followed by Hispanics, 23 percent, whites, 21.5 percent, and blacks, at 21 percent;

—A higher percentage of students identified as foreign, or resident aliens, at 34 percent, entered STEM studies, compared with U.S. natives, at 22 percent. Similarly, among those STEM-focused college entrants, 34 percent reported speaking a language other than English as a child, compared with 21.5 who spoke English.

There are many other figures and facts, which explain the connection between college persistence and high school course-taking, family income, parents’ education, and other factors. Have a look and let me know what strikes you the most.

Photo of students in the University of Texas at Austin’s “UTeach” program by Alicia Wagner Calzada for Education Week

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.