THE UNDERGRADUATE EXPERIENCE IN SCIENCE,
MATHEMATICS, AND ENGINEERING
- Patterns in Undergraduate Education
- Full-Time 4-Year Enrollment
- Faculty Teaching Undergraduates
- Students Leaving College in General and Science, Mathematics, and Engineering
in Particular: Some Causes--- And Some Remedies
- Positive patterns for Women, Underrepresented Minorities, and Students With Disabilities in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering
- Graduation: Degrees
- SIDEBAR: Patterns Among American Indian Undergraduates
- SIDEBAR: Students With Disabilities Studying Science, Engineering, and Mathematics: The Time Disadvantage
- SIDEBAR: Choosing and Leaving Science in Four Highly Selective Institutions
- SIDEBAR: A Burden of Suspicion: How Stereotypes Shape the Intellectual Identities and Performance of Women and Blacks
- SIDEBAR: Minorities in Science at Four Highly Selective Institutions
To maintain and improve its standard of living, the United States needs a citizenry and workforce informed in science and engineering. Higher education is essential to this goal, but completion rates of undergraduate study in these fields are unequal-women and minorities except for Asians are underrepresented compared to their presence in the population. This chapter examines aspects of postsecondary education in science and engineering from enrollment to graduation in 2- and 4-year colleges and universities that serve undergraduates and, in some cases, graduate students as well.
This review of the undergraduate level examines changes in enrollment at all institutions of higher education, both of students intending to pursue studies in science and engineering fields and, very briefly, of others. Because of science and technology's increasing importance, more students need more science, mathematics, and engineering courses either to fulfill general requirements or to select as electives. After a consideration of some of the characteristics of the first 2 years of undergraduate science, mathematics, and engineering education at 2-year and at 4-year-and-beyond institutions, this chapter looks at selected patterns in undergraduate science and engineering study and discusses educational environments that influence attrition and retention in these fields.
This chapter notes certain trends in the postsecondary experience of members of racial/ethnic groups underrepresented  in science, mathematics, and engineering studies, sometimes in comparison with that reported by undergraduates in other fields. It makes some distinctions between the characteristics of students in associate-level community and junior colleges and those of many first- and second-year students planning from the outset to finish baccalaureate degrees. It analyzes both enrollment distribution and outcomes-the kinds of degrees earned-among target groups and across disciplines and institutions.
Patterns in Undergraduate Education
A decade-long pattern of rising undergraduate enrollment among all students in all undergraduate programs ended in 1993, when 210,965 fewer students enrolled in higher education institutions than in 1992, a 2 percent decline.  (See appendix table 3-1.) The numbers dropped for both men and women; however, the numbers of students in all racial/ethnic groups other than white, including foreign students on temporary visas, continued to rise. There were 3 percent fewer white undergraduates in 1993 than 1992 (although 7 percent more than in 1980). Hispanic students increased by almost 3 percent between 1992 and 1993 (about doubling between 1980 and 1993). Although American Indians' numbers went up very little (under 2 percent) between 1992 and 1993, their increase over the 13 years was over 44 percent. Blacks, up less than 2 percent from 1992, increased their numbers by more than 26 percent since 1980. Since 1992, Asians increased by about 4 percent (and by 155 percent since 1980). These trends in enrollment portray a growing diversity within the student population and provide a context for considering the outcomes by discipline areas.
Although total first-year enrollment at all undergraduate universities and colleges was down by 17,054 students, full-time, first-year enrollment inched up by 0.5 percent from 1992 to 1993. (See appendix table 3-2.) Asian and Hispanic enrollment, which increased by 7 percent and 8 percent, respectively, accounted for most of the overall increase.
First-year, full-time undergraduate enrollment went down from 1980 to 1993; men's enrollment declined more than women's. The drop in white non-Hispanics both in numbers and as a share of the first-year, full-time group-from 79 percent of this group in 1980 to 72 percent in 1993-accounted almost entirely for this decline. Numbers of beginning full-time students from nonwhite ethnic subgroups, like minorities in other U.S. population groups, continued to rise: over the 13-year period, Asian/Pacific Islanders went from 2 to 5 percent of this group; Hispanics, from 6 to 9 percent; blacks, up by half a percent to 11 percent.
Six and a half percent of students in 1993 reported having a disability.  (See appendix table 3-3.) Undergraduates claiming disabilities ranged in age from less than 18 years old to more than 30. These students had about the same degree aspirations as others. (See figure 3-1.)
Veterans were more likely to have a disability than were nonveterans, and older students were more likely to have a disability than those under age 24. Undergraduates with disabilities were more likely to attend school part time and to go to 2-year institutions than others, who clustered in 4-year-and-beyond universities and colleges. About 6 percent of students majoring in science and engineering had disabilities; so did about 7 percent of those in other fields.
Some 37 percent of undergraduates received financial aid in 1992-1993. (See appendix table 3-4.) No significant difference is evident between students with and without disabilities in receiving financial aid overall. Greater percentages of students without disabilities in hearing, learning, and speech received funding than those with such problems. On the other hand, a larger proportion of students with orthopedic, visual, or other health-related disabilities received financial aid than those without them.
 According to Bureau of the Census projections, the minority population is on the rise; the workforce as a whole, unlike the population, is less than half female (46 percent in 1994) (Day 1993; U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census 1993a, 1993b, 1993c, 1993d, 1993e).
 The enrollment data for the complete population of higher education students are from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System Fall Enrollment Survey, an annual data collection that obtains information from all accredited institutions of higher education in the country and imputes data for nonresponding units. Like many surveys, these data separate Asians (who are overrepresented in science, engineering, and mathematics in colleges, universities, and the professions) from other minorities. It also often distinguishes between "all institutions," including 2-year colleges and "4-year and beyond." The National Center for Education Statistics, however, does not collect data on student enrollment according to field.
 Other National Center for Education Statistics data offer selected information about postsecondary students with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Education's National Postsecondary Student Aid Study in 1993 asked undergraduates and graduates if they had a functional limitation, disability, or handicap. Each survey participant responded to a set of six separate questions about particular disabilities. The National Center for Education Statistics weighted responses to produce national estimates for the student population. (See Appendix A Technical Notes.)