Minority STEM Students' Perspectives on Their Persistence in College

Minority STEM Students' Perspectives on Their Persistence in College

Stacey A. Williams-Watson
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2783-2.ch010
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The United States needs to increase the number of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) graduates to remain competitive in the global market and maintain national security. Minority students, specifically African American and Hispanic, are underrepresented in STEM fields. As the minority population continues to grow, it is essential that higher education institutions improve minority students' persistence in STEM education. This chapter addresses existing research focused on student retention and obstacles and barriers related to minority students. However, there is little evidence that researches have actually addressed the issue by uncovering the minority students' perspectives. Consequently, the aim of this chapter is to provide a window into the minority student's persistence in STEM programs through a theoretical framework of student retention and the students' experiences.
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The ability to produce Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) graduates who can compete in the ever-changing global market and maintain national security is a major concern of the United States of America’s government officials (Chen, 2009; Gonzalez & Kuenzi, 2012; McGlynn, 2012; Palmer, Maramba, & Dancy II, 2011, Office of Science and Technology Policy, 2019). According to Palmer, Davis, and Thompson (2010) and McGlynn (2012), faculty and administration in higher education institutions within the United States need to produce more STEM graduates. To accomplish this goal, there must be a specific increase in minority enrollment and graduation rates to ensure the economic growth of the United States (Palmer et al, 2010; McGlynn, 2012). This issue is of particular importance as minorities are considered the fastest growing demographic in the United States (McGlynn, 2012). One of the concerns facing higher education administrators is the lack of minority students enrolled in STEM programs--minority students are 24% less likely to earn STEM degrees compared to their White counterparts (Museus & Liverman, 2010).

Furthermore, research indicates that minority students begin college interested in STEM; however, over the course of their college years, retention becomes an issue (Gasiewski et al., 2012). While historical trends can speak to the phenomena of retention and persistence in college in general, this chapter focuses on the specific issues that arise for minority students as they tackle challenging STEM curricula and strive to persist to graduation. The amount and severity of barriers and obstacles they face continue to far exceed those of their majority counterparts, and the result is that minority students drop out of college or change majors at alarming rates. The major objective of this chapter is to provide a window into this population’s persistence in STEM programs through a theoretical framework of student retention and to delve into the lived experiences that minority students perceive as contributing to their persistence in STEM programs. To help alleviate this problem and ensure their persistence, higher education institutions need to consider the minority students’ perspectives as they strive to succeed in this academically challenging, majority-dominated field. Another important objective of this chapter is to provide actionable strategies to assist in that process.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Self-Efficacy: An individual’s belief that he or she is capable of executing a specific task, an individual’s confidence in him or herself.

STEM: An acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Persistence: A student who remains in a higher education program throughout their college career. Students are considered persistent if they were enrolled from the previous year(s) or have attained their degrees.

Stem Education: Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education from pre-school to post-doctorate learning.

Retention: The rate at which students persist or move forward in an educational program. This rate includes the number of students seeking a degree for the first time, students who were enrolled from the previous year and have re-enrolled in the current year.

Minorities: Ethnic groups including, Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Pacific Islanders.

STEM Programs: Programs that encompass the sciences including physical, biological/life, and earth, computer and information science, engineering and science technologies, engineering, and mathematics.

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