A study released last week by the Illinois Education Research Council at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville found that women, African American students and those from low-income families expressed more confidence in their choice of college major, overall and in select science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
An analysis of 75,698 responses from juniors from the Illinois High School Class of 2003 showed significant differences reflected by key demographics and type of planned major. According to the report, confidence in major was higher among women than men; among African American students compared with other racial and ethnic backgrounds; and among students whose family income was less than $30,000 per year.
Additional significant findings of the report included:
• Students planning to pursue a major in the health sciences and STEM teaching education were more confident in their major than students interested in other majors (STEM and non-STEM).
• Those expecting to complete vocational/technical degree or professional degree programs were more confident of their planned college majors than students expecting to finish an associate’s or bachelor’s degree or some graduate school.
• Students who earned a career and technical education certificate were more confident in their planned majors than those earnings an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, as well as those not earning a degree during the study period.
The study was prepared by Casey E. George-Jackson, an Institute of Education Sciences postdoctoral research fellow in mathematics education and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Eric Lichtenberger, associate director for research for the IERC and an assistant research professor at SIUE.
“This knowledge could assist policymakers in their efforts to improve recruitment of students from underrepresented groups into the STEM fields,” Lichtenberger said.
“Although women, students of color and low-income students are underrepresented in many STEM fields, a high proportion of underrepresented students who plan to major in STEM were very sure of their educational plans,” Lichtenberger said. He added that the report shows the level of education required for particular occupations appeared to increase all students’ confidence in certain types of majors.
Lichtenberger said that, from a current policy standpoint, the study can be a useful tool for lawmakers as the new STEM learning exchange program is implemented in the state.
“Learning exchanges are an integral part of Illinois’ Race to the Top grant and are designed to support the local development of P-20 STEM programs that connect a student’s career and educational interests,” the report stated.
A complete report is available at ierc.siue.edu.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Pell Grants
“Forty years ago tomorrow, Senator Claiborne Pell stood with members of Congress and President Nixon as he signed a historic bill to provide low-income students with federal financial aid to pursue postsecondary education. As Senator Pell, the chief sponsor of the program that bears his name, often said: ‘Any student with the talent, desire, and drive should be able to pursue higher education.’ Those words are as true now as they were in 1972.
“Over the past 40 years, the Pell Grant program has supported more than 60 million students. In March 2010, President Obama made a $40 billion investment in the Pell Grant program, raising the maximum award to enable a full-time, low-income student to receive $5,635 a year for his or her undergraduate education for the 2012-13 academic year. The rising demand from students has resulted in a 50 percent increase the number of students eligible for Pell Grants.
“Pell Grants are an economic lifeline for millions of college students, but they are only one way to make sure postsecondary education is affordable. With the cost of college rising faster than family incomes, postsecondary institutions need to do their part to constrain college costs. States need to step up their investments in higher education, even in these difficult fiscal times.
“As President Obama says, ‘No one should go broke because they chose to go to college.’ For 40 years, Pell Grants have been essential to helping millions of students pay for college. It’s our collective responsibility to maintain our commitment to Pell Grants and other efforts to make postsecondary accessible and affordable to all.”