Recession Boosts STEM Enrollment

Undergraduate students are more likely to enroll in engineering and biology since the last economic downturn, a survey finds.

By | April 8, 2014

FLICKR, ARIANA ROSE TAYLOR-STANLEYSince the beginning of the recession, college freshmen have been more likely to enroll in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, and engineering and biology in particular, according to survey results presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting held in Philadelphia last week (April 5). Jerry Jacobs of the University of Pennsylvania and Linda Sax of the University of California,Los Angeles (UCLA), studied intended majors of new undergraduate students at four-year universities based on the Freshman Survey of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program as well as a larger survey of freshmen conducted by UCLA.

From 1997 to 2005, the rate of freshmen planning on enrolling in STEM fields fell to a low of 20.7 percent, the researchers found. Between 2007 and 2011, however, freshmen with anticipated STEM majors rose from 21.1 percent to 28.2 percent, Inside Higher Ed reported. Engineering saw the largest increase, with 57.1 a percent bump during that same time. Biology had the second-highest increase—enrollment shot up 28.2 percent in those five years. Other STEM fields also saw increases, although at more moderate paces. Mathematics saw a 12.6 percent increase; physical sciences, 11.1 percent. Computer science enrollment remained at the same levels as previous years, the researchers found.

The increase did not come at the expense of humanities and arts majors, as many have feared. Humanities and arts majors rates stayed the same, but the increase in engineering and biology majors came at the same time as a 5.9 percent drop in anticipated business and education majors among freshmen, Jacobs and Sax reported.


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