Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Increasing STEM Enrollment Using Targeted Scholarships and an Interdisciplinary Seminar for First- and Second-Year College Students

Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Increasing STEM Enrollment Using Targeted Scholarships and an Interdisciplinary Seminar for First- and Second-Year College Students

Article excerpt

Introduction and Rationale

Attracting more students into STEM fields is a national priority (Jackson, 2003). The global economy increasingly requires persons with scientific, engineering, and technological skills. The US can remain a leader in science and engineering only with a well-educated and effectively trained population. Unfortunately, the US lags behind other industrialized and industrializing nations in percentages or total numbers of undergraduates receiving degrees in natural sciences, engineering, computer science, and information technology (Committee on Prospering, 2007).

Fortunately, there is a consistently high level of US student interest in undergraduate STEM programs, with about 50% of pre-college students indicating an intention to major in a STEM discipline (Committee on Prospering, 2007; ACT, 2014). There is a large gap, however, between the stated intentions of incoming students and their persistence to successful degree completion with a STEM major. In fact, undergraduate STEM programs tend to display the lowest persistence rates among all academic disciplines despite evidence that students who drop out of STEM programs are as qualified as, if not more qualified than, college entrants as a whole (Seymour and Hewitt, 1997).

The first year of college is a particularly risky time during which many students entering with an interest in science or mathematics switch to a major outside the STEM disciplines (Astin and Astin, 1993; Seymour and Hewitt, 1997; Daempfle, 2003-2004; Committee on Prospering, 2007; Graham et al., 2013). This attrition rate may be as high as 60% overall, and even higher for women and minorities (President's Council of Advisors, 2012). Persistence is reinforced by academic success, however. Risk of attrition from the sciences declines the longer a student remains in college.

Furthermore, historically underrepresented minority groups, which constitute about 25% of the US population and 17.9% of undergraduate students, make up only 2.5% of students in STEM majors and 6% of the entire US science and engineering workforce (Committee on Prospering, 2007). And, although women make up nearly half of the entire US workforce, only a quarter of the science and engineering workforce consists of women (National Science Board, 2004).

Demographers forecast that 42 % of the US population will be composed of African Americans and Hispanics by 2050 (Passel and Cohn, 2008). This demographic shift means that racial and ethnic minority students will necessarily constitute an increasingly larger percentage of students in the potential STEM talent pool.

Our strategy to increase STEM matriculants through scholarships

To increase the number of STEM matriculants at the college, in 2000 we began a program to offer four-year competitive scholarships to students pursuing a bachelor's degree in a STEM discipline. The focus has been on several STEM departments at the College- Biology, Chemistry/Physics, Mathematics/Computer Science, and Psychology-that have worked together closely for many years and constitute the main portion of the College's Division of Science and Mathematics. The principal goals of this program are to improve recruitment and persistence of students in STEM fields at Bethel College and to prepare these students for diverse careers in research, practice, and industry. In 2008, we secured a four-year S-STEM grant from the National Science Foundation to augment our existing STEM scholarship program and attendant activities. During the S-STEM funding period, we worked diligently with the College development office to build an endowment to sustain the scholarship program in perpetuity. All scholarship recipients are expected to maintain a specified standard of academic excellence in their college coursework and make reasonable progress in a STEM program of study to retain eligibility. We are persuaded that such a scholarship program, combined with the appropriate student support services, is also an effective means to increase STEM participation by underrepresented minorities and women. …

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