A. Project Objectives and Plans
In the United States, the overall graduation rate for undergraduate students at 4-year institutions is around 60% (Kena et al., 2016, p. 234). However, among students seeking bachelor’s degrees in STEM nearly one-half leave these fields within six years (Chen, National Center for Education Statistics, & R. T. I. International, 2013, p. 14). The United States cannot continue to lose such a large population of students who show an interest and aptitude in science and engineering when the job forecasts indicate a high demand for STEM-educated graduates in the near future. The gap between STEM jobs and graduates could have a significant impact on the nation’s economy and ability to compete globally.
For underrepresented minorities (URMs), the picture looks even bleaker. In 2014, URMs were over 30% of the working-age population in the United States (National Science Foundation & National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2017, p. 2). However, Blacks and African Americans earned only 4% of the engineering degrees and less than 12% of degrees in each of the science and mathematics fields. Those percentages have remained relatively stagnant over the last 20 years. Although the numbers have risen significantly over recent years for Hispanics, they still account for only 10% of the engineering degrees and less than 15% of science and mathematics degrees (p. 9). But the graduation issues begin even earlier as enrollment rates of URMs are still well below that of White students even though they have risen significantly over the last decade (Kena et al., 2016). Household income also has a significant impact on STEM graduate rates. Only 52% of children from the bottom fifth of the income distribution enrolled in college right after high school, compared to 82% of the children from the top fifth (Executive Office of the President, 2014, p. 12). Clearly, there are sociodemographic factors that impact student success in postsecondary STEM including age, race, ethnicity, language and socioeconomic status (SES).
The goal of this proposed program is to investigate the impact of a holistic approach to student support for STEM undergraduates across three colleges. Support services between campus student success programs will be enhanced and shared to financially support and both academically and socially engage students who may be at an increased risk with regards to retention. This work supports the main S-STEM goal of increasing STEM retention and graduation.
The main objective of this proposal is to increase the student engagement of academically talented low-income students through participation in a two-year STEM experience in the freshman and sophomore years. Since increased student engagement has been correlated with increased student success measures, it is hypothesized that the retention risk for participants will be reduced and a higher retention rate will be observed compared to matched non-participants. The addition of financial support will allow the participants more time to engage in program activities, and the various forms of academic support serve to minimize college preparedness gaps exhibited by many low-income students.
B. Significance of Project and Rationale
Although different motivation frameworks will often use different terminology to describe distinct aspects of engagement, there are four themes that re-emerge across the literature: 1) academic engagement, 2) social engagement, 3) cognitive engagement, and 4) affective engagement. All four have been shown to be related to student achievement and therefore retention. The four types of engagement have been measured independently meaning that students can measure high on one and low on another. However, the components tend to be highly correlated, and therefore students are likely to score high (or low) on multiple measures (Finn & Zimmer, 2012, p. 103). Student success programs that aim to improve student achievement therefore, should design interventions to address all four levels of engagement. Raising engagement on one dimension is likely to provide an impetus for increased engagement on another, thereby improving a students’ overall engagement level in school.
Endeavour Scholars will enroll is four S-STEM classes over two years (freshman and sophomore) that are team-based, project-based and hands-on. The courses provide opportunities for students to regularly meet each week while also challenging them through high-tech projects.
Endeavour has partnered with the Challenger Program whose staff are dedicated to monitoring performance and progress of students in the programs. The Challenger advisors request instructor feedback each semester for each scholar to detect early warning signs.
Students are also required to attend advising round tables each semester to become acquainted with their college advisors as well as the different college academic policies. During those meetings, behavioral engagement measures (e.g., class attendance, homework completion) are measured and discussed in an effort to encourage students to correct any behaviors that could put students at academic risk.
In addition, through the small Endeavour first- and second-year courses, the close and regular contact with students allows instructors and peer mentors to be more aware of negative social behaviors.
Endeavour strongly encourages Scholars to enroll in SEP and PROMES academic worships throughout their first two years. Unlike many academic workshops, these workshops do not consist of simply a battery of problems in the “drill and kill” style, but require students to reflect on process and argue solutions. This type of cognitive engagement facilitates deep learning of complex material all while being guided by a high-performing undergraduate student. The workshops also provide students an academically safe environment to take on difficult problems and develop self-regulation tools.
First- and second-year courses in the programs also offer project-based and hands-on curricula centered on real-world problems. These activities provide students opportunities to experience science and engineering concepts beyond the textbook and also encourage work beyond required tasks.
In the Endeavour Program, Scholars participate in a variety of social and professional development events throughout the year. The social events are a time to build the community identity and allow students to interact with the program staff. The events also give the students from different colleges a chance to socialize across the STEM fields. These feel-good events are critical in giving students a sense of belonging to the program and the school.
Professional development events are also held throughout the year to develop the students’ identity within the profession. Most of the information that students acquire at these events is lacking from the formal curricula, but this information is important social capital needed by students to be successful in a business environment. The more positive experiences that a student associates with STEM, the more likely they are to feel a sense of relatedness to the field. That sense of relatedness serves as intrinsic motivation to persist when faced with challenges and adversity.
Sociodemographic Retention Factors
Low-income students are more likely to work 30 hours a week and enroll in school part-time. They are less likely to be continuously enrolled and to live on campus (Kezar, Walpole, & Perna, 2015, p. 237). Forty-one percent of 16-24-year-old college students work while attending school full-time. Most of them are working between 20-34 hours per week (Kena et al., 2016). And since the average annual cost of attending even a 4-yr public institution is currently $22,750, it is easy to see why many low-income students would have a need to work over half-time. However, those who do enroll in fewer class hours to accommodate work schedules become statistically more likely to drop out (Lapovsky, 2008, p. 155), perhaps because they have less time to engage in the school culture.
Low-income students also often lack the social capital of their higher-income peers that would help them in adequately preparing for college, finding a best-fit school, acquiring financial aid, and developing the coping skills that would increase their chances of success (Executive Office of the President, 2014, p. 2). Students in the two lowest income quartiles are more likely to drop out of STEM than those in highest quartile (Chen et al., 2013, p. 17). Only 12% of low-income students obtain a bachelor’s degree within 6 years of graduating from high school (Kezar et al., 2015, p. 239). Low-income students are also more likely to undermatch when choosing colleges, meaning that they are not selecting schools that match their academic ability or give them the best chances for success (Executive Office of the President, 2014, pp. 4-5). Choosing less selectively colleges can also place students at a higher chance of dropping out of STEM (Chen et al., 2013, p. 42).
Other sociodemographic characteristics such as age, minority status, and parental education also place students at risk of not completing their STEM degrees (Chen et al., 2013; Landivar, 2013; Lapovsky, 2008). And as the median earnings in 2014 for 25-34-year-olds in STEM was approximately $70,000 (Kena et al., 2016), dropping out of a STEM program can have serious financial implications for low-income students and their families over generations.
Preparedness Retention Factors
Multiple preparedness factors affect the academic outcomes of low-income students. The number of courses and the type of math courses taken in the first year are significant predictors of dropping out of STEM (Chen et al., 2013, p. 41). Performance in STEM courses is also a predictor. However, as mentioned previously, low-income students are more likely to take fewer courses due to work obligations and they are also less likely to attend high schools that offer AP courses that would help to prepare them to take higher-level math I college. Forty-one percent of students who did not take algebra II or trigonometry in high school dropped out of their STEM programs compared to 14% who took calculus in high school (p. 17). Low-income students are more likely to need remediation courses in college, but the numbers are not good for those who do. Ninety percent of students who need substantial remediation upon entering college do not graduate (Executive Office of the President, 2014, p. 8).
Performance Retention Factors
Both poor performance in STEM courses and poor progress in STEM programs increase the likelihood that students will leave STEM either by dropping out or switching majors (Chen et al., 2013, p. 42). Not surprisingly, low GPAs are associated with leaving. However, even students in good standing are at a higher risk of leaving STEM if their STEM grades are lower than their non-STEM grades. When students perceive that they are better suited in other areas they may decide to leave even when making decent progress and grades.
School Environment Factors
High-performing students may also choose to drop out of STEM programs even though they seem to be having success in their courses. They often cite uninspiring courses early in the curriculum (Olson, Riordan, & Executive Office of the President, 2012, p. i). And underrepresented minorities cite an unwelcoming environment from STEM faculty as a reason for leaving.
The Endeavour intervention proposed in this submission address all of the retention risks mentioned. S-STEM scholarships will provide students with the time and economic breathing room to engage in the campus culture. Kezar et. al (2015) write that “engagement is a luxury that affluent students are able to afford. Engagement requires time” (Kezar et al., 2015, p. 237). Helping students meet financial needs statistically increases their chances of success. The proposed intervention also provides STEM remediation through a summer bridge program that has already been shown to greatly improve retention rates with STEM students at the University of Houston. Then upon entering the formal first year curriculum, students will be placed in academic workshops which are peer-led and have a collaborative learning format. These workshops have also been shown to improve course grades. In addition to academic and financial support, other elements of the intervention include engaging and relevant coursework, professional development activities, outreach and social events to build a student-centered environment and a strong learning community of scholars. The faculty mentor program will also provide a welcoming environment for our STEM students and help them to develop their social capital.
C. Student Selection Process and Criteria
S-STEM participants will be identified in the spring preceding the first semester at UH using university admissions records. If the current proposal is accepted after the spring, the first cohort of participants will be identified through the over 20 summer orientation sessions held at UH. S-STEM participants will be identified based on four factors:
- Household income as reported on the FAFSA
- ACT/SAT score
- High school GPA and class standing (when available)
- Intention to complete a baccalaureate degree in a STEM field within six years from first matriculating at UH
All high performing students (top 10% of high school class) who have significant financial need will receive a holistic review since relatively low standardized test scores and high school academic performance are often correlate with income.
For S-STEM purposes, students are considered to have financial need at the University of Houston if the total cost of full-time attendance (COA) is not met by the total financial aid package offered to the student, which includes local, state, and federal scholarships and grants, students’ expected family contribution, and federal student loans. Students have significant financial need if the unmet portion of the COA exceeds $1,500 per year, and the students' household income is in the bottom two quintiles in Texas (below $41,345 for FY2016), or if the students' household income is in the bottom two quintiles and the student is responsible, through EFC and loans, for more than 27% of the COA. According to data collected and analyzed by The Education Trust, 27% of COA is the average amount U.S. universities ask middle class families to contribute toward educational costs. Essentially, this project defines having significant need as being expected to pay the equivalent of middle-class costs, but not having a middle-class income to draw on. First generation students and underrepresented minorities will be strongly encouraged to participate.
Any attrition in the program due to students leaving STEM or the university will be handled by replacing participants with qualifying replacements. New S-STEM scholars must show financial need as previously defined and must also have earned a 3.25 GPA in completed coursework.
- Chen, X., National Center for Education Statistics, & R. T. I. International. (2013). STEM attrition: College students' paths into and out of STEM fields. Statistical Analysis Report. (NCES 2014-001). Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2014/2014001rev.pdf
- Executive Office of the President. (2014). Increasing college opportunity for low-income students: Promising models and a call to action. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/white_house_report_on_increasing_college_opportunity_for_low-income_students_1-16-2014_final.pdf
- Finn, J. D., & Zimmer, K. S. (2012). Student engagement: What is it? Why does it matter? In S. L. Christenson, A. L. Reschly, & C. Wylie (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Student Engagement (pp. 97-131). New York, NY: Springer.
- Kena, G., W., H., J., M., de Brey, C., Musu-Gillette, L., Wang, X., . . . Dunlop Velez, E. (2016). The Condition of Education 2016 (NCES 2016-144). Retrieved from Washington, DC: http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch
- Kezar, A. J., Walpole, M., & Perna, L. W. (2015). Engaging Low-Income Students. In J. Q. Quaye & S. R. Harper (Eds.), Student Engagement in Higher Education: Theoretical Perspectives and Practical Approaches for Diverse Populations (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.
- Landivar, L. C. (2013). Disparities in STEM Employment by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2013/acs/acs-24.html
- Lapovsky, L. (2008). Rethinking student aid: Nontraditional students. In S. Baum, M. McPherson, & P. Steele (Eds.), The Effectiveness of Student Aid Policies: What the Reserach Tells Us (pp. 141-157). New York, New York: The College Board.
- National Science Foundation, & National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. (2017). Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 2017 (Special Report NSF 17-310). Retrieved from Arlington, VA: www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/
- Olson, S., Riordan, D. G., & Executive Office of the President. (2012). Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Report to the President. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED541511