Individual and Institutional Factors of Applied STEM Coursetaking in High School
by Cameron Sublett & Michael A. Gottfried — 2017
Background/Context: One approach to address the shortage of STEM-proficient high school graduates has been the development of applied STEM coursework, which seeks to increase STEM interest and retention by illustrating the interconnectedness and accessibility of STEM concepts. Importantly, however, no research has yet examined which student and institutional factors are associated with applied STEM coursetaking.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of the Study: The current study poses three questions: (1) What student factors are related to applied STEM coursetaking in high school? (2) What school factors are related to applied STEM coursetaking in high school? (3) How is the influence of these factors different based on the timing of course taken?
Population/Participants/Subjects: This study uses data from the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002). ELS:2002 provides complete transcript data for ~ 90% of the students in the sample. Importantly, parent and teacher questionnaires were also gathered in the base year (2002) of the study. ELS:2002, therefore, represents a rich, nationally representative multilevel dataset with complete student coursetaking records along with parent, teacher, and school administrator data.
Research Design: This study relies on secondary data analyses and a series of logistic and multinomial logistic regression models. There were four key outcome variables, including: (1) a binary indicator of enrollment in at least one applied STEM course during high school, (2) a binary measure of whether a student had enrolled in at least one SRE-specific applied STEM course, (3) a binary measure of whether a student had enrolled in at least one IT-specific applied STEM course. To construct the fourth and final outcome variable, we divided applied STEM coursetaking into three categories: early, late, and never.
Findings: The findings for the first research question suggested that women were significantly less likely to enroll in applied STEM courses. The findings for the second research question suggested that institutional factors were only weakly related to applied STEM enrollment. The findings for the third research question did not suggest major trends in when students enrolled in applied STEM. Rather, it appears that students enroll in applied STEM courses throughout high school.
Conclusions/Recommendations: This study illustrated that rather than increasing the number of traditionally underrepresented student groups in STEM, applied STEM courses may be contributing to the much-discussed “gender gap” in STEM education. Policymakers and school leaders must examine the mechanisms behind this stratification; future research should explore, perhaps through qualitative inquiry, why women and students with disabilities choose to not take these courses.
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