pursue, and the exam results allow high-ability students to be identified and analyzed separately.

In a total sample of 18,000 students, 8.0 percent and 11.7 percent indicated an interest in the biological or physical sciences and engineering, respectively. Bettinger found, in an analysis conducted for the summit, that these numbers were somewhat lower for the students who attended two-year colleges—5.5 percent and 9.4 percent. In contrast, the percentages were higher for students with high ACT scores (above 24)—11.7 percent and 18.0 percent. The students at two-year institutions had somewhat lower average ACT scores than the average for all students, but in broad terms their aspirations and characteristics were similar, Bettinger said.


A “depressing” number of students abandon STEM majors, Bettinger observed. Among all students who declared an intention to pursue a STEM major, only 43 percent were still in a STEM field at the time of their last enrollment, with the rest moving to other majors by the time of their last enrollment.

The numbers were far worse for two-year students. Only 14 percent of the students at two-year colleges who intended to major in a STEM field when they took the ACT exam were still in a STEM field at the time of their last enrollment. “This defection rate is extremely high,” said Bettinger.

Almost one-half of all students who leave STEM majors switch to business majors (48.7%). Other popular majors for students who switch are the social sciences (21.2%) and education (11.1%). Among two-year switchers, about 30 percent switch to business majors, and slightly less than one-quarter each go to social science and education majors.

Meanwhile, very few students who did not intend to major in a STEM subject converted to a STEM major. Only 5.5 percent of STEM majors for students at all institutions, and only 3.4 percent for two-year students, were converts to STEM from a non-STEM major.


Bettinger listed five possible reasons for the relative lack of U.S. students pursuing STEM majors in two-year and four-year institutions:

1. At the end of secondary school, few are prepared to enter STEM fields.

2. Few express initial interest in entering STEM fields.

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