Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Exploring Student Persistence in STEM Programs: A Motivational Model

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Exploring Student Persistence in STEM Programs: A Motivational Model

Article excerpt

Introduction

Student persistence in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields deserves close attention given the alarming attrition rates from such programs--particularly for women--in light of the increasingly problematic nature of staffing difficulties and turnover among science educators and practitioners in North America (Hall, Dickerson, Batts, Kauffmann, & Bosse, 2011; Ingersoll & May, 2012; Ingersoll & Perda, 2010). Over the past 20 years, the number of college-bound students interested in STEM majors has dropped by 50% and approximately half of the students who do enter STEM programs transfer out before completing their degree (Chen, 2013; Daempfle, 2003). The physical sciences and engineering are at particular risk, as evidenced by substantial declines in the number of earned bachelor's degrees and doctorates in these fields over the past decade (National Science Foundation, 2013; Xie & Achen, 2009). In the province of Quebec, this issue is particularly salient, with provincial universities shown to graduate fewer science graduates than those of other OECD member countries (Baillargeon et al., 2001). Traditionally, research on student persistence has focused on the predictors of dropout, with less attention paid to why students change programs without leaving school. Accordingly, notably few studies have examined students' choices or decisions to change their academic focus or career aspirations away from STEM to other disciplines.

Research has found both classroom factors (e.g., student-teacher interaction, pedagogy, classroom culture; Seymour & Hewitt, 1997; Tinto, 1997), as well as individual differences in students (e.g., self-determined motivation) to significantly predict students' career aspirations and persistence (e.g., Quebec high school students; Vallerand, Fortier, & Guay, 1997). In research on motivation in STEM programs, findings have shown post-secondary students' levels of self-efficacy (e.g., Sawtelle, Brewe, & Kramer, 2012), achievement goals (e.g., Deemer, Smith, Carroll, & Carpenter, 2014), and perceived autonomous support (e.g., Hall & Webb, 2014) to predict attrition, emotional well-being, and achievement. Although studies also show self-determined motivation to predict performance in Quebec junior college (CEGEP) students (e.g., Taylor, Lekes, Gagnon, Kwan, & Koestner, 2012), research on motivation and persistence among CEGEP students in STEM disciplines is lacking. The present study aims to address this research gap by utilizing structural equation modelling to examine the motivational factors that influence CEGEP students' decisions to pursue STEM degrees by examining the effects of self-efficacy, goals, and autonomy support on persistence, emotional well-being, and achievement.

Quebec's CEGEP System

The term CEGEP is an acronym for College d'enseignement general et professionnel (College of General and Professional Education). A Diplome d'etudes collegiales (DEC; Diploma of College Studies) is a requirement for all Quebec students who wish to pursue subsequent studies in Quebec universities. Students are admitted to the science programs at CEGEP on the basis of their performance in high school mathematics, chemistry, and physics courses. Typically, they must have an average of at least 70 to 80% in their high school science courses in order to be accepted into the CEGEP science program. Because of this stringent requirement, CEGEP science students are often the highest performing students from Quebec high schools. Examining newly admitted CEGEP students is particularly relevant given that it is during the transition from high school to university that approximately half of science-bound students decide to leave the sciences and switch to non-science majors, with the greatest loss of potential science students occurring just prior to, or shortly after, enrollment in college (Daempfle, 2003; Rosenfield et al. …

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