A primer for the Florida Legislature on making sure our state university students are STEM-ready

Update (10:00 Friday):  It turns out that the meeting was all about the two presidents after all…

Update (8:30 Friday):  Never mind.  The meeting notice says discussion of higher education issues with Presidents Machen and Barron, but the meeting packet is full of presentations on RTTT, the State College System and private institutions.  If these presentations are actually given, then there will be little or no time for the UF and FSU presidents.

For Speaker Cannon, House Education Committee Chair Proctor, and everybody else who will be involved in the discussion that kicks off Friday with the interrogation  interview of FSU President Barron and UF President Machen by the House Education Committee:

Every university-bound student should be STEM-ready

High school (pre-)calculus and physics courses are the best preparation for STEM majors

[from USF, 2007 – Tyson, Lee, Borman and Hansen, “Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) pathways:  High school science and math coursework and postsecondary degree attainment,” Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, Vol. 12, Issue 3, Pgs. 243-270.]

  • A student who completes a precalculus course in high school is three times more likely to earn a STEM bachelor’s degree than one who stops at Algebra 2.
  •  A student who completes a high school calculus course is seven times more likely to earn a STEM bachelor’s degree than one who stops at Algebra 2.
  • A student who completes a high school physics course is twice as likely to earn a STEM bachelor’s degree as one who stops at chemistry.
  • In 2009-2010, the number of students in Florida who passed the Advanced Placement Calculus AB test (equivalent to Calculus 1) or the Calculus BC test (equivalent to both Calculus 1 and 2) was 5.8% of the number of high school seniors in the state.  The corresponding number in Massachusetts was 11.0%.

Bachelor’s degree attainment rates for all fields (top panel) and STEM fields (bottom panel), sorted by the highest level math course taken, from Tyson et al.

Bachelor’s degree attainment rates for all fields (top panel) and STEM fields (bottom panel), sorted by the highest level science course taken, from Tyson et al.

Three policy options for increasing the number of STEM-ready university-bound students

[P.D. Cottle, Florida TaxWatch Ideas in Action, September 2010]

  • Initiating a program of differentiated high school diplomas:  Offer an “Advanced Studies Diploma” requiring biology, chemistry, physics and precalculus or calculus.
  • Modifying requirements for Bright Futures scholarships:  Eligibility requirements can be modified to require biology, chemistry, physics and precalculus or calculus.
  • Requiring high school biology, chemistry, physics and precalculus or calculus for admission to the state’s public universities:  The most direct method to ensure that every university-bound student is STEM-ready.
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