Pittsburgh, December 7, 2011 – American women entering college are the best prepared academically to hit the books and successfully graduate with a STEM degree (82 percent), according to a survey of faculty from the nation’s top 200 research universities who chair STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) departments. The survey, conducted by Bayer Corporation, is the 15th by the company and the fifth to examine the underrepresentation of women, African-Americans, Hispanics and American Indians in many U.S. STEM fields.
The survey uncovers several possible reasons why these students, particularly females, come to college poised for success but fail to graduate with STEM degrees.
Specifically, the chairs say being discouraged from a STEM career is still an issue today for both female and underrepresented minority (URM) STEM undergraduate students (59 percent) and that traditional rigorous introductory instructional approaches that “weed out” students early on from STEM studies are generally harmful and more so to URM (56 percent) and female (27 percent) students compared to majority students (i.e. Caucasian and Asian males). Yet, a majority (57 percent) of the chairs do not see a need to significantly change their introductory instructional methods in order to retain more STEM students, including women and URMs.
The Bayer Facts of Science Education XV survey polled 413 STEM department chairs at the country’s leading research universities and those that produce the most African-American, Hispanic and American Indian STEM graduates. The survey asks the chairs, who are largely male (87 percent) and Caucasian (88 percent) to shed light on the undergraduate environment in which today’s female and URM STEM students make their career decisions.
“This research adds an important unheard voice to the national discussion about how we as a country need to broaden student participation in STEM to include more women and minorities,” said Greg Babe, President and CEO, Bayer Corporation. “In the U.S. education pipeline, college STEM departments are important gatekeepers to STEM careers – indeed one of the most important links in the chain. This is why Bayer continues to dedicate resources toward the advancement of science literacy across the United States – starting with hands-on, inquiry-based science learning in elementary schools and continuing through our research partnerships with universities, all giving students the best chance to succeed.”
“One of the greatest challenges most universities face is changing the culture of teaching and learning in STEM courses,” said Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, President of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). Hrabowski chaired the National Academies committee that produced the 2010 report, “Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America’s Science & Technology Talent at the Crossroads.”
“Too often, we in higher education believe high quality is related to how many students are weeded out of STEM courses,” Hrabowski continued. “Instead, the emphasis should be on rigorous course work coupled with support, together leading to larger numbers of students succeeding academically. We should also be giving faculty support, including professional development opportunities, enabling them to redesign courses, make the best use of technology, and encourage group collaboration.”
Other major Bayer survey findings include:
For URMs, many colleges are just average: More than one-third (37 percent) give their institution a “C” or below for retaining and graduating URMs.
University leadership must act: An overwhelming 84 percent of the STEM department chairs believe the issue of recruiting and retaining women and URM STEM undergraduates is important to their institution’s chancellor/president and seven-in-10 (69 percent) say the issue has reached a point where it needs to be addressed by the highest institutional leadership, including trustees and regents, presidents, provosts, deans and department chairs.
Most institutions don’t have a STEM diversity plan: Only one-third (33 percent) report their colleges have in place a comprehensive STEM diversity plan with recruitment and retention goals.
More student academic support is needed: 71 percent believe their STEM departments need to significantly increase the academic support they provide STEM students, including women and URMs, in order to retain more of them.
Low recognition of stereotypes as a barrier: While a significant number of the chairs acknowledge the persistent stereotype that says STEM isn’t for girls/minorities is a barrier for female STEM students (13 percent), almost none (3 percent) recognize this as an obstacle for URMs
URMs seen as least poised for college STEM success: The chairs say URMs arrive at college the least well prepared academically to study and graduate with STEM degrees.
And, a significant one-third (33 percent) say their URM students, given similar academic preparation as their other majority students, are less likely to graduate with STEM degrees.
Few URMs to graduate with STEM degrees this year: Most – eight-in-10 – STEM department chairs report underrepresentation of URM students in both introductory (77 percent) and upper/major (83 percent) level STEM courses and say only 16 percent of the STEM degrees their departments will grant this year will be to URMs.
Fewer females than males to graduate with STEM degrees this year: While roughly two-thirds report no female underrepresentation in STEM introductory (64 percent) and upper/major (60 percent) courses, they also say their departments will grant more STEM degrees to males (59 percent) than females (42 percent) this year.
“The major story that emerges from this survey is the failure of universities, STEM departments and professors to recognize and understand the role they play in undermining or promoting women and underrepresented minority students’ success in seeking and completing STEM degrees,” said Dr. Mae C. Jemison, astronaut, medical doctor, chemical engineer and Bayer’s longtime Making Science Make Sense® spokesperson.
“By department chairs’ own account, women students arrive at college the best prepared academically for STEM degree success, but graduate at lower rates than their males counterparts. And while half the chairs considered URMs least prepared, they acknowledged that even minority students well prepared academically for STEM success graduated at lower rates. So clearly there is something about the interaction and engagement of women and URM students at colleges themselves that impacts the students adversely—whether it is courses that disproportionately “weed out” students, few women professors or discouraging those who are not the stereotype of a successful STEM student.”
“The next step? As department chairs overwhelming know, it is for colleges to actively take positive actions to recruit and retain women and minority students in STEM. Actions that will also help majority students be more successful.”
The survey, conducted by International Communications Research in Media, PA, polled a total of 413 STEM department chairs/heads from the country’s top 200 research colleges/universities, as well as those that produce the most African-American, Hispanic and American Indian STEM graduates (e.g., historically black colleges and universities, etc.) Final STEM department categories included agricultural sciences, biological sciences, computer sciences, engineering, mathematical sciences and physical sciences. Based on the sample size, the statistical reliability achieved is +/- 4.5% margin of error at a 95% confidence level.
Note for Journalists: Visit the online press room http://bayerus.online-pressroom.com/ for all of the Bayer Facts of Science Education survey materials. The site contains the survey’s Executive Summary, a link to past Bayer Facts surveys, images and broll footage.
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About Bayer Corporation and Making Science Make Sense®
Bayer Corporation, headquartered in Pittsburgh, is a subsidiary of Bayer AG, an international health care, nutrition and high-tech materials group based in Leverkusen, Germany. The company’s products and services are designed to benefit people and improve their quality of life. The Corporation is committed to the principles of sustainable development and to its role as a socially and ethically responsible corporate citizen. Economy, ecology and social responsibility are corporate policy objectives of equal rank. In North America, Bayer had 2010 net sales of EUR 8.23 billion ($10.86 billion) and employed 16,400 at year-end. For more information, go to www.bayerus.com.
Formalized in 1995, Making Science Make Sense is Bayer’s national award-winning initiative to advance science literacy through hands-on, inquiry-based science learning, employee volunteerism and public education.