Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Factors That Contribute to the Persistence of Minority Students in STEM Fields: This Exploratory Study Examined Factors That Contributed to the College Persistence of Minority Students in STEM Graduate Programs at LMCU, Providing Nuance and Texture to the Existing Theory and Research

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Factors That Contribute to the Persistence of Minority Students in STEM Fields: This Exploratory Study Examined Factors That Contributed to the College Persistence of Minority Students in STEM Graduate Programs at LMCU, Providing Nuance and Texture to the Existing Theory and Research

Article excerpt

THE UNITED STATES RELIES on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates to enhance national innovation and economic development. Recently, however, great concern has arisen about the quantity and quality of STEM graduates (Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, and National Academy of Engineering 2007). Writing of the need to recruit more students into the sciences, Dunn and Blake (2003) state that "there are far more topics in need of study than there are investigators in the 'pipeline' to do this research" (p. 264). STEM disciplines struggle to recruit and graduate students, especially minority students.

Minority students "bring unique perspectives to research questions and strategies concerning access, delivery, and effectiveness of care in minority and underserved populations" (Yager et al. 2007, p. 146). Carnes et al. (2006) note that it is necessary to increase the minority undergraduate population in STEM fields for those disciplines to remain representative of the rapidly changing U.S. population. Yet, a 2006 American Council on Education study found that only 13 percent of African-American and Hispanic students chose a major in STEM over a 10-year period (Anderson and Kim 2006). Further, only 24 percent of minority students who undertake a STEM major will complete it within six years as compared to 40 percent of White students (Smith 2000). In light of these statistics, minority students who persist to graduation and obtain a baccalaureate in a STEM discipline present a uniquely successful population worthy of further research that may provide insight into increasing minority persistence in STEM.

This study examined the following research question: What factors influenced the persistence to baccalaureate of minority students currently enrolled in graduate STEM programs?

This exploratory research uniquely reflects from a place of success (minority students who obtain their baccalaureate and subsequently enroll in master's-level STEM programs) to understand the factors that led to that success. Quantitative studies examine college persistence but fail to capture the texture of students' experiences (Chang et al. 2008). Using qualitative methods, the researchers focused on information-rich cases from a purposefully selected sample and obtained an in-depth understanding of the factors that contributed to persistence through the subjects' experiences.

CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

Insights regarding the persistence of minority students in STEM programs emerge from the general scholarly literature on undergraduate persistence (Astin 1993; Braxton 2000; Nora, Barlow, and Crisp 2005; Tinto 1993). Bourdieu (1977) suggests that social class instills a system of understanding about the social world that informs a student's outlook and beliefs about education. This concept, which Bourdieu calls habitus, circumscribes aspirations and beliefs about personal potential and shapes the valuing of education. Habitus and other background variables influence the persistence puzzle directly and also influence the student's academic preparation in high school (Weidman 1989). The American Association for the Advancement of Science (George et al. 2001) found that academic preparation variables including rigor, test scores, and GPA are significant predictors of STEM degree completion.

Pascarella and Terenzini (1983) link social and academic integration to student persistence. They define social integration as the degree to which students believe they have established significant relationships with peers and the campus community and academic integration as the degree to which students feel they have established a relationship and connection with faculty members. Students who report higher levels of social and academic integration into their campus environments also demonstrate higher levels of institutional and goal commitment and persistence to degree completion. …

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