Sunday, August 25, 2013

Improving STEM Graduation Rates in the U.S.

STEM education is becoming more important for nations that desire to foster their innovative flames for higher economic development.  The problem is that the U.S. is falling behind many countries in their approach to the basics of scientific development. Research by Soldner, et. al (2012) offers some solutions for encouraging STEM students to continue their goals until graduation. 

One out of seven American students, one out of two students in China and one out of three students in Singapore are  engage in core STEM education such as science, math, and engineering (National Academies, 2007). The shift marks an unsustainable path for American innovation and ingenuity that may rear its ugly head 30 years down the road. As a nation, we are losing our dominance on multiple fronts starting deeply in our educational progressiveness. 

Students who start college in the STEM fields often leave for other fields based on a whole range of reasons related from skill to interest. Minorities and women are even less represented in such fields. It is believed that our primary and secondary educational systems are to blame for the inability to prepare students to study and graduate in the scientific fields. 

Social Cognitive Theory is one way in which to understand how students prepare, persist, and graduate in such fields. The three social cognitive variables are self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and goals. Students who are likely to stay in programs believe they can, expect positive results, and believe their goals will be achieved. 

The researchers collaborated with approximately 46 universities to understand how life-learn programs and traditional residency programs influence the graduation rates of STEM students. They found that those who were part of live-learn programs with others of similar STEM fields were more likely to graduate than those who were living with the general population. They also found that those who were not in the core STEM programs did not receive much of a benefit from live-learn programs. 

The report does not discuss online education. However, it is possible envision how personal profiles, cohorts in the STEM fields, and a pseudo-online community networking could influence the graduation rates of online STEM students. Through personal expression with peers, students can develop personal relationships that supports them throughout their academic time.

National Science Board. (2007). A national plan for addressing the critical needs of U.S. science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education system. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.

Soldner, et. al. (2012). Supporting students intentions to persist in STEM disciplines: the role of living-learning programs among other social-cognitive factors. Journal of Higher Education, 83 (3).

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