By Deborah Williams
With all the effort given these days to promote STEM (Science Technology Engineering, and Mathematics) learning among America’s students, it is quite troubling that a recent New York Times article on its website “Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)” by Christopher Drew points out that about 40% of science and engineering majors change their majors or drop out of school and never earn a degree. The percentage of dropouts or students who change their majors is even higher (60%) among pre-medical students. UCLA education professor, Mitchell J. Chang believes that it’s not really a matter of not being prepared adequately in elementary and secondary school. He thinks that the competition among these talented students “overwhelms even well-qualified students.”
Most of the attrition comes from engineering and pre-med students who may not have had adequate math preparation or who aren’t willing to work hard enough. Additionally, many of those students find their freshman classes challenging, and the classes in the subsequent years tend to be mainly theory class—classes that don’t feed many students’ passions. Peter Kilpatrick, dean of engineering at Notre Dame, cites the engineering school’s success in retaining students by creating design projects and reducing the lecture experience to meet with smaller groups of students. The engineering school used to retain between 50 to 55 percent of its students, but now it retains more than 75 percent.