Barriers and Opportunities for
2-Year and 4-Year STEM Degrees
SYSTEMIC CHANGE TO SUPPORT
STUDENTS’ DIVERSE PATHWAYS
Committee on Barriers and Opportunities in
Completing 2-Year and 4-Year STEM Degrees
Shirley Malcom and Michael Feder, Editors
Board on Science Education
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Board on Higher Education and the Workforce
Policy and Global Affairs
National Academy of Engineering
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
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This study was supported by Contract No. HRD-1244829 from the National Science Foundation, Contract No. B2012-30 from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and an unnumbered contract from S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, with additional support from the National Academy of Sciences Kellogg Fund. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for the project.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-37357-9
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-37357-3
Library of Congress Control Number: 2016939799
Digital Object Identifier: 10.17226/21739
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Copyright 2016 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
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Cover credit: iStock image #34464984, ©kali9.
Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2016). Barriers and Opportunities for 2-Year and 4-Year STEM Degrees: Systemic Change to Support Diverse Student Pathways. Committee on Barriers and Opportunities in Completing 2-Year and 4-Year STEM Degrees. S. Malcom and M. Feder, Editors. Board on Science Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Board on Higher Education and the Workforce, Policy and Global Affairs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21739.
The National Academy of Sciences was established in 1863 by an Act of Congress, signed by President Lincoln, as a private, nongovernmental institution to advise the nation on issues related to science and technology. Members are elected by their peers for outstanding contributions to research. Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone is president.
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Learn more about the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine at www.national-academies.org.
COMMITTEE ON BARRIERS AND OPPORTUNITIES IN COMPLETING 2-YEAR AND 4-YEAR STEM DEGREES
Shirley Malcom (Chair), American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC
Cynthia Atman, Center for Engineering Learning and Teaching, University of Washington
George Boggs, American Association of Community Colleges (emeritus), Washington, DC
Pamela Brown, Office of the Provost, New York City College of Technology, City University of New York
Peter Bruns, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (emeritus), Chevy Chase, Maryland
Tabbye Chavous, Departments of Psychology and Educational Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Charles De Leone, Department of Physics, California State University, San Marcos
Frank Dobbin, Department of Sociology, Harvard University
S. James Gates, Jr., Department of Physics, University of Maryland, College Park
Sylvia Hurtado, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles
Leah H. Jamieson, College of Engineering, Purdue University
Adrianna Kezar, Pullias Center for Higher Education, University of Southern California
Kenneth Koedinger, Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Carnegie Mellon University
Muriel Poston, Office of the Dean of Faculty, Pitzer College
Mark Rosenberg, Office of the President, Florida International University
Uri Treisman, Charles A. Dana Center for Mathematics and Science Education, University of Texas, Austin
Michelle Van Noy, Education and Employment Research Center, Rutgers University
X. Ben Wu, Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, Texas A&M University
Michael Feder, Study Director
Kelly Arrington, Senior Program Assistant (until February 2014)
Kerry Brenner, Program Officer, Board on Science Education
Catherine Didion, Senior Program Officer, National Academy of Engineering
Jay B. Labov, Senior Advisor for Education and Communication, National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
Elizabeth O’Hare, Program Officer, Board on Higher Education and the Workforce
Argenta Price, Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellow (winter 2014)
Joanna Roberts, Program Assistant (until April 2015)
Miriam Scheiber, Program Assistant
Heidi Schweingruber, Director, Board on Science Education
Martin Storksdieck, Director, Board on Science Education (until June 2014)
BOARD ON SCIENCE EDUCATION
Adam Gamoran (Chair), WT Grant Foundation, New York, NY
George Boggs, Palomar College, San Marcos, California (emeritus)
Melanie Cooper, Department of Chemistry, Michigan State University
Rodolfo Dirzo, Department of Biology, Stanford University
Joseph Francisco, Department of Chemistry, University of Nebraska, Lincoln
Margaret A. Honey, New York Hall of Science, New York City
Matthew Krehbiel, Achieve, Inc., Washington, DC
Michael Lach, Urban Education Institute, University of Chicago
Lynn Liben, Department of Psychology, The Pennsylvania State University
Cathy Manduca, Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College
John Mather, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Brian Reiser, School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University
Marshall “Mike” Smith, Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Stanford, California
Roberta Tanner, Physics Teacher (retired), Loveland High School, Loveland, CO
Suzanne Wilson, Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut
Yu Xie, Department of Sociology, Princeton University
Heidi Schweingruber, Director
Martin Storksdieck, Director (until June 2014)
Michael Feder, Senior Program Officer (until October 2015)
Margaret Hilton, Senior Program Officer
Kerry Brenner, Program Officer
Kenne Dibner, Program Officer
Amy Stephens, Program Officer
Matt Lammers, Program Coordinator
Miriam Scheiber, Program Assistant
BOARD ON HIGHER EDUCATION AND THE WORKFORCE
William E. Kirwan (Chair), Office of the Chancellor, University System of Maryland
Angela Byars-Winston, Department of Medicine, University of Wisconsin–Madison
Aprille Ericsson, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland
Richard Freeman, Department of Economics, Harvard University
Sally Mason, Office of the President, University of Iowa (emeritus)
Francisco Rodriguez, Office of the President, Los Angeles Community College District
Subhash Singhal, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (emeritus)
Thomas W. Rudin, Director
Elizabeth O’Hare, Program Officer
Irene Ngun, Research Associate
NATIONAL ACADEMY OF ENGINEERING COUNCIL
Charles O. Holliday, Jr. (Chair), Royal Dutch Shell and E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co.
C. D. (Dan) Mote, Jr. (President), National Academy of Engineering
Corale L. Brierley, (Vice President), Brierley Consultancy LLC
Thomas F. Budinger (Home Secretary), Graduate School, University of California, Berkeley, and E. O. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Ruth A. David (Foreign Secretary), Analytic Services Inc.
Martin B. Sherwin (Treasurer), W.R. Grace & Co.
John L. Anderson, Chemical Engineering, Illinois Institute of Technology
Wanda M. Austin, The Aerospace Corporation
Uma Chowdhry, E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co.
Paul Citron, Technology Policy and Academic Relations, Medtronic, Inc. (retired)
David E. Daniel, The University of Texas System
Anita K. Jones, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia (emerita)
Frances S. Ligler, Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine and North Carolina State University College of Engineering
Arunava Majumdar, Precourt Institute for Energy and Department of Mechanical Engineering, Stanford University
Richard A. Meserve, Carnegie Institution for Science (president emeritus)
H. Vincent Poor, Engineering and Applied Science, Princeton University
C. Paul Robinson, Sandia National Laboratories (president emeritus)
Richard H. Truly, United States Navy and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (retired)
Ralph J. Cicerone, President, National Academy of Sciences
Policy makers agree that the nation’s economic and social development require investment in the education of everyone. The level of that education and the skills required in 21st century America differ widely from those needed in the country inhabited and built by our forebears. The pace of change is different, as are the demographics of the U.S. population. While education in general is critical to the nation’s future, it is widely recognized that the specific skills often acquired in the study of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields are increasingly needed across the economy, and it is those fields that we have explored in depth in this report.
The decision to focus on specific fields was partly based on practical considerations. The scope of the study needed to be bounded so that a detailed report could be produced, and the national focus on STEM education and jobs led to the need to clarify what research can contribute to the ongoing policy debates. However, while the committee acknowledges the importance of STEM to the nation’s economic competitiveness, we also recognize the importance of the pursuit of all knowledge, including the arts and humanities, and how these non-STEM areas also support the growth of ideas and solutions needed to address global challenges.
We also recognize that those holding STEM degrees have higher salaries and lower levels of unemployment, and there is a smaller pay gap between men and women in many STEM fields than in other fields. At the same time, we note that most people with STEM degrees are not working in STEM fields.
We do not tie our discussion to questions of the adequacy, oversupply, or surfeit of STEM degree holders. We note that those with an interest should be afforded an opportunity for success. STEM degrees not only provide credentials that attest to mastery of knowledge in specific STEM fields, but also indicate that the individuals likely possess skills that are used and valued in a variety of sectors of the economy. Beyond the interest in providing knowledge and skills that will be valuable in the economy is the value of having such knowledge and skills to support responsible citizenship in a pluralistic democracy. Study of STEM fields can enrich individuals as they engage in multiple roles across society.
Our forebears lived in a time when there were different norms as to the role of women and minorities in the community and the economy. Today, women are the majority of students in higher education. The shifting demographic means that the nation has to develop talent from across society, including among those who may not in the past have been afforded a quality education or those for whom society has not had expectations for success in STEM fields.
As we have explored the research to inform the question of STEM degree completion, we have tried to look to the extent possible at various groups in the population, especially at groups who, history shows, may not have been enabled to contribute to the talent pool for STEM. We know, for example, that in addition to women and underrepresented minorities, persons with disabilities and first-generation college students have faced barriers. Unfortunately, we have not always had robust data or relevant research to be able to outline the nature of those barriers or the opportunities to address them. To respond to this lack of guidance, we can only advocate that reforms be learner centered and that the system be viewed from the perspective of the learners.
Shirley Malcom, Chair
Committee on Barriers and Opportunities in
Completing 2-Year and 4-Year STEM Degrees
This report represents the work of thousands of individuals, not only those who served on the committee, wrote papers for it, and participated in the committee’s open sessions, but also those who conducted and were the subjects of the research on which our conclusions and recommendations are based. We recognize their invaluable contributions to our work. The first thanks are to my fellow committee members, for their deep knowledge and contributions to the study.
This report was made possible by the important contributions of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the study committee, and many other experts. We acknowledge the sponsorship of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, and the National Science Foundation (NSF). We particularly thank Elizabeth Boylan (program director, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation), Lisa Lomenzo (program officer, S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation), Susan Singer (director, NSF Division of Undergraduate Education), and John Rand (program director, NSF Human Resources Development Division).
Over the course of this study, members of the committee benefited from discussion and presentations by the many individuals who participated in our three fact-finding meetings. At the first meeting, the committee discussed the charge with representatives from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, and NSF. Carl Wieman (Stanford University) and Linda Slakey (independent consultant) discussed the major issues in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education to which the committee should attend. Lynne Molter (Swarthmore College) and Ann-Barrie Hunter (University of Colorado) described what can be
derived from existing data on students seeking STEM degrees. Charles Henderson (Western Michigan University) presented evidence on strategies for creating and implementing changes in undergraduate STEM education. Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux (George Washington University) described the role of minority-serving institutions in educating students who aspire to earn a STEM degree.
During the second meeting, the committee heard expert testimony on the state of reform efforts in mathematics education from David Bressoud (Macalester College), Lou Gross (University of Tennessee), and Steven Ritter (Carnegie Learning). Casey George-Jackson (University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign) and Rita Kirshtein (American Institute of Research) discussed the cost and price of STEM degrees. Evidence of the impact of authentic STEM experiences for students was presented by Elizabeth Ambos (Council on Undergraduate Research), Phillip Bowman (University of Michigan), and Kevin Egan (University of California, Los Angeles). The value of taking a systems approach to improving undergraduate STEM education was discussed by Ann Austin (Michigan State University), Ellen Goldey (Wofford College), Robert Hilborn (American Association of Physics Teachers), and Karan Watson (Texas A&M University).
The third committee meeting was structured as a public workshop on undergraduate STEM education. The workshop included two panel discussions on the goals and processes for reforming undergraduate STEM education. The first panel included Ryan Kelsey (Helmsley Trust), Mary Beth Oyer (Lockheed Martin), Dale Ramenzani (Corporate and University Relations Group), and Mercedes Talley (W.M. Keck Foundation). The second panel included Steve Barkanic (Business-Higher Education Forum), Emily Miller (Association of American Universities), Muriel Poston (Project Kaleidoscope Advisory Board), and Kacy Redd (Association of Public and Land-grant Universities). The meeting also included expert presentations on student persistence in STEM degrees at different types of institutions (2-year, 4-year, public, private, nonprofit, for profit, etc.) by Kevin Eagan (University of California, Los Angeles), Kevin Kinser (University of Albany, State University of New York), and Marco Molinaro (University of California, Davis). Mica Estrada (California State University, San Marcos) and Kim Godsoe (Brandeis University) discussed the impact of co-curricular supports for STEM students. Rafael Alvarez (San Diego City College), Cher Carrera (Santa Ana College), Mark Filowitz (California State University, Fullerton), Benjamin Flores (University of Texas at El Paso), and John Matsui (University of California, Berkeley) provided an overview of the programs that improve STEM student retention and persistence. The barriers and opportunities created by articulation agreements and transfer policies were discussed by Elizabeth Bejar (Florida International University), Randy Kimmens (Maricopa Community College), and Ken O’Donnell (California
State University). The committee also benefited from discussion by Noah Finkelstein (University of Colorado Boulder) and Omar Torres (College of the Canyons) about creating and sustaining systemic change.
We are grateful for the efforts of the 12 authors who prepared background papers:
- David Bressoud, on the barriers that STEM degree seekers encounter with mathematics
- Ken O’Donnell, on the regulations and policies affecting the transfer of credit between 2-year and 4-year institutions
- Mica Estrada, on the co-curricular supports for underrepresented students seeking a STEM degree
- Kevin Eagan, Tanya Figueroa, Brice Hughes, and Sylvia Hurtado, on the pathways to a STEM degree among students who begin college at a 4-year institution
- Michelle Van Noy and Matthew Zeidenberg, on the contributions of community colleges to undergraduate STEM education and workforce development
- Kevin Kinser, on the contributions of for-profit institutions to undergraduate STEM education and workforce development
- Hal Salzman and Michelle Van Noy, on STEM student pathways from 4-year institutions to 2-year institutions
This report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Report Review Committee. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process.
We thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Richard M. Amasino, Department of Biochemistry, University of Wisconsin–Madison; Eric Bettinger, Graduate School of Education, Stanford University; David Bressoud, Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science Department, Macalester College; Benjamin Flores, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Texas at El Paso; Charles Henderson, Physics Department, Western Michigan University; Lynne Molter, Department of Engineering, Swarthmore College; Peter F. Murray, Science Learning Institute, Foothill College; Peter J. Polverini, School of Dentistry, University of Michigan; Linda L. Slakey, Dean Emerita, University of Massachusetts Amherst; Candice Thille, Graduate School of
Education, Stanford University; Diane C. Tucker, Science and Technology Honors Program, Honors College, University of Alabama at Birmingham; Jessica Utts, Department of Statistics, University of California, Irvine; and Carl Wieman, Department of Physics and Graduate School of Education, Stanford University.
Although the reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the content of the report nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Paul R. Gray, executive vice chancellor and provost emeritus, University of California, and Ron S. Brookmeyer, Department of Biostatistics and The Fielding School of Public Health, University of California, Los Angeles. Appointed by the Academies, they were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the author and the institution.
Thanks are also due to the project staff. Michael Feder, of the Academies Board on Science Education, directed the study and played a key role in the report drafting process. Kelly Arrington managed the study’s logistical and administrative needs, making sure meetings and workshops ran efficiently and smoothly. Joanna Roberts and Miriam Scheiber managed the manuscript preparation. Melissa Welch-Ross (senior program officer with the Institute of Medicine) summarized the research on the cost and price of STEM degrees. We are also grateful to Argenta Price (Christine Mirzayan science and technology fellow) for her synthesis of the research on undergraduate research experiences. Staff of the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education also provided help: Eugenia Grohman substantially improved the readability of the report; Kirsten Sampson Snyder expertly guided the report through the Academies report review process; and Yvonne Wise masterfully guided the report through production. Catherine “Kitty” Didion (senior program officer with the National Academy of Engineering), Jay Labov (senior advisor for education and communication), and Elizabeth O’Hare (program officer with the Board on Higher Education and the Workforce) provided critical guidance and input at each stage of the study. Finally, this study would not have been possible without the vision of Margaret Hilton (senior program officer with the Board on Science Education).
Shirley Malcom, Chair
Committee on Barriers and Opportunities in
Completing 2-Year and 4-Year STEM Degrees