Well-documented trends have been reported nationally of a decline in US students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines. Here are a few recommendations that could stimulate interest in STEM disciplines among new students.
1. Reduce Class Sizes of First and Second Year Courses
In addition to reducing class sizes, educators should also provide opportunities for students to engage in small group experiences that are often associated with more extensive courses. Research shows an inverse relationship between the size of classes and the level of success students experience. Substantial efforts should be made to reduce the size of individual lecture sections that are currently larger than 120 students. Within large classes, there should be small-group “community building” opportunities, preferably involving no more than 25 students, that allow for high-quality student-student and student-instructor interactions
2. Reduce the Rate of First and Second Year Courses to No More than 25%
Courses should be regularly monitored and teachers should be evaluated. Subject departments need to put plans in place to reduce the amount of students enrolled on courses that are regularly over this limit. A department-level accountability system should be put into place for courses that continually have rates higher than this limit.
3. Institute a Common First-year Experience for all Students
This experience should consist of one course each semester of the first year that is cross disciplinary across colleges. Such courses should explore the connections between society, business, politics, culture, history and/or literature and topics in STEM.
4. Supply Undergraduate Experiential Learning Opportunities for new STEM Students, such as Service Learning and Undergraduate Research
Students should be introduced early to active practitioners in their field so they can share their experiences. In addition to providing a better learning experience for our students, this will also help to recruit well-prepared students interested in STEM majors.
5. Increase Retention through Student Support and Mentoring
In addition to information about which courses to select for a given major, students have repeatedly expressed a need for support structures that will provide them additional information about available careers in the field of their choice, insights about how to succeed, advocacy and mentoring for difficult academic experiences and a closer relationship with advisors, teachers and other students. Enhanced mentoring of students – both with respect to career information and academic advising – must begin as soon as a student is admitted and continue until they graduate.
6. Provide Mentoring, Tutoring and Advocacy Services to Students
Engage more senior students as mentors for entering students. Higher education leadership degrees should also focus on mentoring and many accredited online EDD degrees are already moving in this direction. Successful examples of peer mentoring approaches can be found at many institutions around the country, and have showed significant success in retaining female and underrepresented minority students. There are many ways to do this. For instance, you could expand the responsibilities of the Center of Student Success to alleviate some of the burden put on SATS programs.
All these methods will not only encourage excellence among new students, but also ensure that more stay in STEM fields after they enroll.