Building on research done 15 years ago that largely influenced the push for better teaching in STEM classrooms, a group of researchers is exploring why, more than a decade later, more than half the students who go in with a STEM major eventually leave.
The original study, published as a book in 2000, had far-reaching effects in STEM education. Finding the cause behind the high departure rate from STEM majors to be bad teaching, the work is largely credited with beginning a national dialogue on improving the retention rate in STEM majors, particularly among women and students of color.
The new study, which includes at least one of the original researchers, will return to the seven institutions surveyed more than a decade ago and conduct 400 interviews with “persisters” and “switchers.” The goal is to figure out what happens between the first science class and the decision to switch majors; to that end, the researchers are paying close attention to the foundation classes, also known as “weeder” classes, that might dissuade talented and motivated individuals from pursuing the major.
The results will be published in a book, along with recommendations on how to improve STEM education so that 60 percent of students aren’t switching majors before their senior year.
And an expected shortfall of one million STEM graduates over the next decade makes such research all the more necessary.