Interest is up, says UCLA Professor Mitchell Chang. Persistence is not.
Many students aren’t prepared for the rigors of introductory chemistry and calculus, says Clemencia Cosentino de Cohen, a senior researcher at Mathematica Policy Research. Women are more likely to drop the major.
“If women get a B, they think they’re failing. A man gets a B, and he’s happy. They say they’re acing the class,” Cosentino says. “Women who go into hard sciences, they’re very driven, they’re very high achieving, and if they’re not performing at that very top level, they become discouraged, and they think that it is not for them.”
Tough grading in science classes leads to attrition, a 2010 Cornell study found. STEM students realize they can work less and earn higher grades in liberal arts courses.
The S in STEM has been oversold, writes Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews.
“Employers are paying more, often far more, for degrees in the fields of technology, engineering and mathematics (TEM),” College Measures President Mark Schneider wrote in his report, “Higher Education Pays: But a Lot More for Some Graduates Than for Others.”
But “evidence does not suggest that graduates with degrees in biology earn a wage premium — in fact, they often earn less than English majors,” Schneider wrote. “Graduates with degrees in chemistry earn somewhat more than biology majors, but they do not command the wage premium typically sought by those who major in engineering, computer/information science, or mathematics.”
A TEM bachelor’s degree qualifies a graduate for a good job. An S bachelor’s degree usually isn’t enough on its own, though it can be the first step to a medical degree.