• January 30, 2015

Students in STEM Fields Typically Outperform Their Peers, Report Says

Using data from three national studies completed from 1995 to 2006, the U.S. Department of Education released a report today that profiles the characteristics and higher-education outcomes of the roughly 15 percent of students who major in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics at postsecondary institutions.

The report says that 23 percent of first-time students in 1995-96 declared majors in one of those areas, known as STEM fields, at some point from 1995 to 2001. A higher proportion of those students identified themselves as male, young, and a dependent. They were also more likely to be Asian/Pacific Islander students, foreign students, people who spoke a language other than English as a child, and students who came from advantaged backgrounds.

Students in the STEM fields also did better than their non-STEM peers. Students who majored in STEM subjects generally were more likely than non-STEM students to obtain a bachelor's degree within six years of their initial college enrollment. About one-third of students who declared a STEM major during their first year switched to a non-STEM field over the six-year period.


1. grossman - July 29, 2009 at 04:00 pm

Alice, I'm not sure what the implications of this are beyond the conclusion that science/math majors do better overall in college than others.

2. rick1952 - July 29, 2009 at 06:01 pm

I agree, the implications of this correlational data do not offer much insight into what it is about students who major in STEM disciplines that contributes to the greater success completing their degrees. It is interesting that foreign students and those for whom English is a second language are on par with "advantaged" students, though it is not clear what "advantaged" means.

3. unnikrishnan - July 29, 2009 at 06:41 pm

"STEM" has been a problem acronym for many years. I wonder if the writer can delineate the success rates of the "ET" part of STEM from the aggregate. I bet the success comes predominantly from the engineers, perhaps 90%. Many years ago, a politically correct governmental agency created the acronym STEM for being inclusive. It should have been just "E". Unfortunately, the acronym stuck and the "ENGINEERING" part got marginalized.

4. 22028881 - July 29, 2009 at 07:09 pm

without redoing this data, it is hard to tell what controls were used, and these could make a big difference. Eg: Typically, STEM students have a much more controlled curriculum and they must declare their majors earlier than students in non-STEM fields. The literature out there on retention points to these two factors as promoting higher retention rates. Moreover, there is a bias in the population of students who major in STEM fields--the STEM population tends to be whiter and more affluent--again, factors that would point to higher retention and earlier graduation rates than the population of students at large. Charlotte Borst; Vice President for Academic Affairs, Whittier College

5. lee77 - July 30, 2009 at 08:19 am

This reminded me of any interesting observation which Malcolm Gladwell made in his book Outliers, which linked scholastic success of Asian students, such as alluded to here, with a culture based on growing rice.

6. krissboyd - July 30, 2009 at 09:20 am

The mean SAT and rank in class for freshmen in our STEM majors are higher than those for the rest the freshman at our large state university. The mean math test scores for engineering freshmen are much higher. The conclusion confirms the obvious.

7. rightwingprofessor - July 30, 2009 at 09:48 am

Everyone knows math majors are smarter than humanities majors.

8. llgrasmick - July 30, 2009 at 01:52 pm

Gee, when I read the original news item ... I assumed the higher graduation rates were an indication that the STEM programs were easier to complete than those in other disciplines.

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