STEM issues

STEM attrition discussed in NYT

Why Science Majors Change their Minds (It’s just so darn hard)

I thought this was a well-balanced article in terms of addressing the many possible reasons why attrition in STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering & math) is so high – around 40%.  It doesn’t suggest that any one thing in particular is to blame, but some of the factors described in this article include:

  • students lacking math preparation in K-12
  • students not being willing to work hard enough
  • difficult and abstract first and second-year classes focusing on theory
  • grade inflation in the humanities and social sciences (compared to lower marks consistently given in STEM disciplines)
  • narrow range of courses, lacking passion (engineering in particular)
  • higher reliance on lecture-style classes rather than interactive activities and projects

The article does not suggest that we should address the attrition problem by making our courses easier.  Rather, courses that involve open-ended problem solving such as design work, research and social service projects can help get students engaged, so that they can work on something that is interesting and important to them.  But for me, two big questions remain: how do we incorporate some of these types of projects into our curriculums without sacrificing the important technical rigor?  And how do we assess them effectively?

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