Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Factors That Influence STEM-Promising Females' Decision to Attend a Non Research-Intensive Undergraduate Institution

Academic journal article Journal of STEM Education : Innovations and Research

Factors That Influence STEM-Promising Females' Decision to Attend a Non Research-Intensive Undergraduate Institution

Article excerpt

Introduction

The 'leaky STEM pipeline' gender differences in STEM enrollments and attitudes, and underrepresentation of females in STEM professions in the United States have been explored from a variety of perspectives for greater than two decades (cf American Association of University Women, 2010; Beede, et al., 2011; Blickenstaff, 2005; Brainard & Carlin, 1998; Ceci, Williams, & Barnett, 2009; Cunningham, Hoyer & Sparks, 2015; Morgan, Gelbgiser, & Weeden, 2013; Riegle-Crumb, Grodsky, & Muller, 2012). Unfortunately, these perplexing issues continue to exist and are perceived at a national level as threats to the United States' ability to compete in the global economy (National Academy of Sciences, 2006; National Science Board, 2007; President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2012).

This study explores the pivotal entrance point to the postsecondary STEM pipeline for females: the decision regarding which undergraduate institution to attend. With limited information and experience, all students must choose to attend a specific university where they may, or may not, ultimately study in a STEM field. Twenty-five years ago, analysis of the high school to college linkage was recommended to understand ways in which the STEM pipeline could be augmented (Maple & Stage, 1991; p. 56). More recent studies of university and college major choice identify factors of influence for students of both genders from various demographic backgrounds, as well as how college females choose to major in STEM or nonSTEM subjects (Engberg & Wolniak, 2013; Wang, Eccles, & Kenny, 2013; Wang, 2013). However, there is little extant research that examines how 'STEM-Promising' females - defined here as those who have shown aptitude and ability in STEM through completing Advanced Placement (A.P) STEM courses in high school - weigh various institutional factors when making their college choice. Paying such attention to high achieving females' college selection process, as undertaken in this case study, has been specifically recommended to contribute to closing the STEM gap and patching the pipeline (Everett, 2012).

We hypothesize that a portion of the subsequent leakage along the STEM pipeline for such high aptitude females may be explained by their choice of postsecondary institution, rather than academic ability, interest, or wider societal issues such as gender stereotyping. The competitive nature of STEM courses at large research institutions reportedly deters some women from choosing or remaining in a STEM major (Shapiro & Sax, 2011); studies also suggest females may require equally rigorous undergraduate programs augmented by academic support and faculty interaction (Griffith, 2010; Mann & DiPrete, 2013). Thus, a factor contributing to female underrepresentation in STEM may be their choice to attend postsecondary institutions that do not fulfill their interdisciplinary and non-academic interests or have learning environments that are not supportive of their needs. Finally, non research-intensive universities, which reportedly provide a supportive environment for females in STEM (Griffith, 2010; Huang, Taddese, Walter, & Peng, 2000), are not necessarily employing targeted female recruitment efforts to strengthen the STEM pipeline, even though it has been recommended (Cho, Hudley, Lee, Barry, & Kelly, 2008).

This case study was conducted with 103 STEMPromising female undergraduate students attending one private, midsized non research-intensive university with high female undergraduate student enrollment, which offers over 50 STEM and non-STEM majors. The purpose was to identify the institutional factors most pertinent to their decision to attend this non research-intensive university. We propose such a choice is counterintuitive for STEM-Promising students, if research-intensive institutions' profiles of higher levels of faculty research productivity, institutional financial resources for research, and total student enrollment are perceived as indicators of successful environments for STEM education. …

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