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Why Students Leave Science, Mathematics, and Engineering: Minority Students

A study to determine the relative importance of factors contributing to career choice and persistence in undergraduate education has documented striking differences among student groups (Seymour and Hewitt 1994, ch. 13).
Reasons for leaving science, mathematics, and engineering (SME) fields varied considerably according to the particular ethnic group to which students belonged. However, there were some differences between white and minority students as a whole. (See text table 5-2.)
Minority students placed more of the blame for switching on themselves, while white students more often indicated institutional factors as reasons. For example, white students noted poor teaching and curriculum overload as reasons for switching more than twice as often as did minority students. This greater targeting of external factors by whites occurred even though minority students encountered greater difficulties related to academic achievement: Conceptual difficulties were reported by 31 percent of all minority students, compared with 5 percent of white students; inadequate high school preparation was noted by 25 percent of minority students compared with 11 percent of white students. Inappropriate choice was the second most highly ranked factor (35 percent) for minority switchers, compared with 6 percent for white switchers.
Many minority students reported that they had been "...over-encouraged to enter SME majors for which they were under prepared." Minority students seem to choose SME majors on the basis of less information and less accurate estimates of their own ability and with more focus upon career goals than upon intrinsic interest. These findings suggest a need to more carefully present what an SME major and career entail to high school minority students.
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