NY Times: Focus on science and engineering attrition at the college level

The New York Times discusses how several institutions are addressing attrition among science and engineering majors.

A sample:

But, it turns out, middle and high school students are having most of the fun, building their erector sets and dropping eggs into water to test the first law of motion. The excitement quickly fades as students brush up against the reality of what David E. Goldberg, an emeritus engineering professor, calls “the math-science death march.” Freshmen in college wade through a blizzard of calculus, physics and chemistry in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. And then many wash out.

Studies have found that roughly 40 percent of students planning engineering and science majors end up switching to other subjects or failing to get any degree. That increases to as much as 60 percent when pre-medical students, who typically have the strongest SAT scores and high school science preparation, are included, according to new data from the University of California at Los Angeles. That is twice the combined attrition rate of all other majors.

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2 Responses to NY Times: Focus on science and engineering attrition at the college level

  1. Doc Carr says:

    The reason math is a death march is students are not prepared for college math taught at a college pace. Now that FSU’s costs and admissions criteria are sending us students with AP calculus and low verbal scores or AP calculus and a scholarship, we see the effect first noted by a math prof at Johns Hopkins: even AP calc students aren’t ready because those HS classes go so slowly and emphasize teaching to the test.

    You see this in a quote from the article, where a dropout says “I was trying to memorize equations” in engineering mechanics. He should have already known the equations from physics. He sounds like someone whose HS experience led him to believe you should memorize 300 equations for each of 300 problems, only to meet problem 301 on an exam.

  2. Doc Carr says:

    The NY Times article is first rate. It singles out a fact that one engineering prof made to our engineering club a few years ago. There are easier ways to make money than Engineering. The basic classes are hard work. Engineering majors work harder than almost any other major on campus. And when they get a job, the hard work and long hours continue. There is also attrition after graduation, not just before it!

    If this country actually valued STEM majors in industry, it would pay them more and supply and demand would take care of the rest. But it doesn’t value them, and engineers are smart enough to notice how easy it is to earn a top grade in other majors. When the time comes, they can earn a lot more by taking a job away from that finance major who went drinking every Thursday because they had no classes on Friday.

    You might also notice the important point that “top professors are focused on bringing in research grants, not teaching undergraduates.” How much better would your class be if it had half as many students or two full professors instead of one plus some teaching assistants?

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