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Why We Are Still Talking About Leaving

Abstract

In this chapter, we discuss the scholarly debate about the nature and consequences of losses from STEM majors. We also offer a summary of findings from the original study, Talking about Leaving: Why Undergraduates Leave the Sciences (Seymour & Hewitt, Talking about leaving: Why undergraduates leave the sciences, Boulder, CO: Westview Press; 1997), which are revisited in findings from the present study throughout this book. The original work was designed to discover, and establish the relative importance of factors contributing to high rates of switching from STEM to non-STEM majors; the current study explores what has and has not changed in the intervening years, what new variables have arisen, and how these contribute to losses from STEM majors. The digest of original findings allows comparison and contrast with findings from the present study. We also review research that has tested and augmented the original findings and explain what prompted the follow-up study. The purposes, design, and conduct of the new study are explained, and the chapter finishes with an overview of the book’s content and structure.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The sample comprised four public IHEs:

    • a large urban, mid-western university with prestige ranking for its STEM research and high production of STEM undergraduates and graduates;

    • a “flagship” western state university with high reputation for its engineering school and several science departments;

    • a comprehensive, urban north-eastern university with large and diverse STEM undergraduate enrollment;

    • a western state (originally land-grant) university serving a large rural population, with a prestigious engineering research program, and applied science specialties.

    And three private IHEs:

    • a large west coast university with selective admission and high STEM research prestige;

    • a western liberal arts college with a strong reputation for its science teaching (engineering is not offered);

    • a small western city university offering masters’ degrees and doctorates in the sciences and undergraduate engineering.

    The selection of four western state institutions was made because the study was funded in two stages—the first of which focused on four regional IHEs; the second stage added three additional IHE types and wider geographic scope.

  2. 2.

    Ethnographic research explores cultural phenomena from the point of view of the subjects of the study—as expert witnesses to events of which they are a part.

  3. 3.

    This explains why exit interviews may not provide useful explanations for a student’s decisions to leave. The interviewers tend to hear about “last straw” incidents but may not learn about the substantive problems that led to them.

  4. 4.

    How instructors taught large classes did contribute to switching. Class size, by itself, did not.

  5. 5.

    Reviewed in Talking about Leaving, pp. 235–236 and 239.

  6. 6.

    Asian-American students are commonly omitted from STEM education studies that focus on underrepresented minorities (URMs). To do this is to treat as a single category students from a wide array of national and linguistic groups and fails to distinguish those communities that are long established in the USA from those of recent immigration. In addition, as we discovered in the original study (and recounted earlier in this chapter), their exclusion misses problems that are distinctive to some Asian groups. A 2018 study by the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) highlights one important persistent-related issue: “Across the board, Asian-American students have the greatest amount of unmet need, regardless of the institution they attend. We offer a few explanations for this. Across all races/ethnicities, Asian-Americans are the most income-stratified; while some Asian-American subpopulations are as financially secure as whites, many others live in deep poverty.” Kochhar and Cilluffo (2018) also report that, income inequality in the U.S. is rising most rapidly among Asians.

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Seymour, E., Hunter, AB., Weston, T.J. (2019). Why We Are Still Talking About Leaving. In: Seymour, E., Hunter, AB. (eds) Talking about Leaving Revisited. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-25304-2_1

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