U withstands national STEM switching trend

National surveys show students are leaving STEM for liberal arts.

U withstands national STEM switching trend

Jeff Hargarten

While national surveys show students drop out of science and technology programs when the coursework gets tough, the University of MinnesotaâÄôs enrollment in these programs has remained steady.

In the past 12 years, about 22 percent of University students who started a STEM program graduated with their original degree, said Paul Strykowski, an associate dean at the UniversityâÄôs College of Science and Engineering.

From fall 2010 to 2011, 3 percent of students in CSE and the College of Biological Sciences switched majors. Forty-six percent of those went to the College of Liberal Arts, said Ron Matross, a senior analyst at the University.

Annually, only about 6 percent of STEM students change to liberal arts programs at the University, Strykowski said. But nationally, nearly 40 percent of students intending to pursue STEM programs either switch majors or fail to get a degree, according to a 2010 study by Baruch College and the College Board.

The number of students who enroll in college STEM programs after high school remain high nationwide, the study shows. But many do not graduate into a science field due to course difficulty.

Josh Klapperick enrolled at the University as a biomedical engineering major in 2008.

After starting down the road toward a STEM degree, Klapperick found the coursework overly challenging âÄî something he felt high school hadnâÄôt prepared him for.

Midway through his first semester, he transferred to CLA and became a psychology major.

The Baruch study found students who took advanced math before graduation fared better in college science classes, and those who took three or more years of science college prep courses in high school improved their chances of sticking with the sciences.

The number of STEM jobs nationally will grow to be 5 percent of all jobs by 2018 as demand for science talent grows, according to a Georgetown University study released last month. About 19 percent of students graduate with a STEM degree, but only 8 percent are still in the field a decade later.

The Georgetown study points out an âÄúoverall disappointing performanceâÄù from K-12 science and math curriculum nationwide.

Meanwhile, a 2010 Cornell University  study showed STEM majors in the highest tier of SAT scores were more likely to stay in the sciences. Similarly, the Baruch study showed students who did not take AP science exams struggled to stay in their field.

But Evan Sturtz was the valedictorian of his high school class and started college in CSE taking physics and chemistry courses. He left the program in his sophomore year.

âÄúI got in over my head,âÄù he said, because of the rigorous courses assigned to him by CSEâÄôs Honors Program.

Sturtz felt a lot of pressure to pursue a science degree in college because âÄúthe smart people become engineering majors.âÄù

Sturtz transferred to CLA and started with psychology, but will graduate with a sociology degree this spring.

âÄúI wanted to work with people rather than things,âÄù he said.

Klapperick finds his psychology track more relaxed and likes that it offers more class choices compared to the UniversityâÄôs STEM programs.

âÄúPsychology lets me learn more of what I want to learn,âÄù he said.