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College Student Pathways to the STEM Disciplines

by Mark E. Engberg & Gregory Wolniak - 2013

Background/Context: As concerns mount about the shortage of students entering science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers, policy makers throughout the United States are contemplating strategies to maintain and enhance our nation’s economic vitality and international competitiveness. Within this policy and program environment, researchers have focused considerable attention on improving STEM education at different stages of the educational pipeline, yet we lack evidence on how resources from one educational setting may influence outcomes in a successive educational setting.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus: The purpose of the study is to examine individual- and school-level factors that influence students’ pathways to the STEM fields during college. Focusing on the importance of high school-to-college linkages, our research questions address the individual and institutional factors that affect students’ likelihoods of majoring in a STEM field in college.

Research Design: The study is based on data collected through the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002, a nationally representative survey of high school sophomores who were followed through high school and into college. Students who were enrolled in a four-year institution at the end of 2006 and had declared a major were included in the analytic sample.

Analysis: In addition to performing descriptive and factor analyses, we used cross-classified hierarchical general linear modeling to examine students’ backgrounds, aptitudes, attitudes, dispositions, and experiences in relation to majoring in a STEM field, as well as institutional factors that constitute students’ secondary and postsecondary environments.

Findings/Conclusions: Findings from the study revealed significant effects in relation to race, academic preparation, attitudes and dispositions toward math and science, college choice considerations, and postsecondary experiences. Although no institutional effects were uncovered at the high school level, both postsecondary sector and selectivity significantly influenced propensities toward majoring in a STEM discipline. The study concludes with several policy recommendations related to K–16 collaborations, dual-enrollment programs, and developmental considerations for teachers and counselors working with high school students.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 115 Number 1, 2013, p. 1-27
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16740, Date Accessed: 9/25/2021 6:13:39 PM

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About the Author
  • Mark Engberg
    Loyola University Chicago
    E-mail Author
    MARK E. ENGBERG is an assistant professor of higher education at Loyola University Chicago. Dr. Engberg’s current research examines the secondary and postsecondary school nexus, with particular attention to how the college choice process unfolds for underserved populations. His research also explores the role of educational interventions in reducing intergroup bias and preparing students for the challenges of a global society. He is actively involved in a number of educational associations and has recently published in the Review of Educational Research, the Journal of Higher Education, Review of Higher Education, Research in Higher Education, and the Journal of College Student Development.
  • Gregory Wolniak
    University of Chicago
    E-mail Author
    GREGORY C. WOLNIAK is a research scientist with NORC at the University of Chicago. Dr. Wolniak’s research focuses on pathways to college and the relationship between postsecondary education and socioeconomic outcomes. His current research projects include a study of postsecondary opportunity structures among at-risk students, an examination of factors predicting postsecondary STEM enrollment and career outcomes, and an evaluation of an NSF fellowship program. Recent publications have appeared in the Journal of Higher Education, Research in Higher Education, Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, and Review of Higher Education.
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