College Fit is Key to Completion of STEM Degrees

…as Malcolm Gladwell’s 2013 book David and Goliath finds that choosing a school where you excel may be more important than choosing a school for its elite status, especially for those interested in science. Largely based on a 1988 study by Strenata et. al, Gladwell’s book proposes that being in the bottom tertile academically may be a deterrent for continuing to pursue STEM due to the hierarchical nature of the discipline. Students often opt to change majors when “relative failure at the basic levels is not only discouraging but to some extent incapacitating for the next courses” (Strenata et. al 5 ). Gladwell then quotes a study by UCLA professor Mitchell Chang: “For every 10-point increase in the average SAT score of an entering cohort of freshmen at a given institution, the likelihood of retention decreases by two percentage points”. As shown in the chart, the likelihood of persistence towards a STEM degree is less correlated to a students’ Math SAT score than it is dependent upon their score relative to their peers.
Source: Rogers Elliott and Christopher Strenta — Data reported in David and Goliath — §3 "Caroline Sack"
↑ Correlation between Math SAT Score (X axis) and Graduation Rate (Y) for three categories of students — Top Third, Middle Third, Bottom Third — among four Colleges. Whereas they have a Math SAT Score superior, the bottom third at Harvard struggles to graduate (85% drops) compared to the Top Third at Hartwick.
→ Related Videos: Malcolm Gladwell's Talk at Google Zeitgeist and Alex Chang's The Unspoken Reality Behind the Harvard Gates, an account on relative deprivation inside elite schools.
This bulletin was written by Elise Rust and edited by Andrew Nguyen.
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