Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

College Major Choice in STEM: Revisiting Confidence and Demographic Factors

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

College Major Choice in STEM: Revisiting Confidence and Demographic Factors

Article excerpt

Using national freshman survey data, the authors examined confidence and background variables (e.g., gender, minority status, parental occupation) as predictors of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) major choice. Logistic regression analyses revealed that students were more likely to choose STEM majors if they had strong confidence in mathematics and academic areas and had parents with STEM occupations. Although female students were unlikely to choose a STEM major, African American and Latina/o students were equally as likely to choose a STEM major as were White or Asian American students. Findings suggest that students' confidence level in their academic and mathematics abilities makes a significant difference in their initial STEM major choice. Study findings could assist educators, counselors, and policy makers in their efforts to promote student choice of STEM-related majors and careers.

A continuing challenge for the United States is to produce America's future scientists and engineers. Although the nation is becoming more dependent on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates to support its technology-based economy, fewer American college-bound students are entering STEM fields of study in higher education (National Science Board [NSB], 2005). Moreover, the percentage of high school students who express interest in becoming a scientist or engineer has sharply dropped, which may lead to fewer than 2% of U.S. high school graduates eventually receiving STEM degrees from 4-year colleges and universities (National Academy of Sciences [NAS], 2007). The result is a diminishing pool of STEM graduates with the expertise necessary to promote international economic and technological advancement. In the context of national policy analysis, the General Accounting Office (GAO; 2005) called for recruiting U.S. citizens to STEM majors to secure STEM human capital for the U.S. labor pool.

With warnings from the NSB (2005) and the GAO (2005) concerning the strategic crisis in domestic STEM education, there has been a heightened research interest in STEM career and major choice areas. Much of the educational research concerned with STEM tends to focus on STEM career aspiration, school career guidance, strategies to stimulate STEM interest prior to college, or college persistence and degree completion in STEM fields (Atkin, Green, & McLaughlin, 2002; Fouad, 2007; Herrara & Hurtado, 2011). Yet, little research examines matriculating undergraduate students' choice of a STEM major.

Demographic issues, such as gender and race, have also been heavily examined in STEM-related studies (Chavez, 2001; Fouad, 1995, 2007; Francis, 2000; Herrara & Hurtado, 2011; Lee, 1998, 2002; Perrone, Sedlacek, & Alexander, 2001; Sax, 1994). Likewise, student ability and confidence in math and science and their effect on STEM career interest development have been reported in many studies, especially with respect to women and minorities (Fouad, 2007; Hackett & Betz, 1989; Luzzo, Harper, Albert, Bibby, & Martinelli, 1999). Nevertheless, a gap exists in the literature on female and minority student confidence in mathematics and academic abilities and how such confidence (or lack thereof) relates to STEM major choice. Therefore, this study investigated confidence and demographic factors associated with the choice of a STEM major, focusing on U.S. citizen, full-time students matriculating into 4-year col- leges and universities. Specifically, we addressed the following questions:

1. How do background factors such as gender, minority status, parental socioeconomic status (SES), parents with STEM occupa- tions, and academic preparation affect a STEM major choice?

2. How does academic confidence affect a STEM major choice?

3. How does mathematics confidence affect a STEM major choice?

STeM Workforce Advancement

To alleviate U.S. STEM graduate shortages, the GAO (2005) presented recruitment strategies related to (a) international students, (b) women, and (c) minorities. …

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