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How Introductory Courses Deter Minority Students from STEM Degrees


instructor and students in classroom lecture hall, illustration

Introductory "weeding out" courses may disproportionately drive underrepresented minority students out of STEM.

Credit: Getty Images

Minority students who earn low grades in introductory STEM classes are less likely to earn degrees in these subjects than similar White students, according to a paper published in PNAS Nexus.

The researchers found significant disparities, even after controlling for comparable academic preparation in high school and intent to study science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM). The probability of obtaining a STEM degree for a STEM-intending White male student with average academic preparation who receives a grade of C or better in all introductory courses is 48 percent. For an otherwise similar minoritized male student, the probability is 40 percent. For a minoritized female student, the probability is 35%. A Black male student has a 31 percent chance of obtaining a degree. A Black female student has a 28 percent chance. 

"Introductory STEM courses are institutional structures that may exacerbate disparities in STEM education and, as such, equity issues must be central in efforts to redesign and rebuild them," says lead author Professor Nathanial Brown at Pennsylvania State University.

From Oxford University Press
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