STEM Majors Beware
A recent New York Times article, “Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)” reminded me of my own change of heart. I entered Northeastern Universityas an Electrical Engineering Major and eventually changed to the College of Business with a dual major in business and financial systems design. Engineering was not what I thought that it would be and business and financial systems design was much better suited to my interests in business management and consulting. More than the difficulty of the classes, my reflections are directed more at the lack of guidance that I received in high school toward selecting a college or college major. I do not recall my high school counselor doing much more than reviewing my transcript to determine that I could possibly go to college, however, that was the extent of his guidance. He gave me a brochure for ITT (Illinois Institute of Technology) and wished me well.
For today’s students, future jobs are in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics-related fields (STEM) as President Obama has affirmed and economists have long proclaimed. However, we continue to do a terrible job teaching and preparing K – 12 students in science, technology, and mathematics on the front end and a comparably terrible job teaching and supporting such students once they get to college. Subsequently, students pursuing such areas of studies at the college level are ill prepared for the rigor of such disciplines. The New York Times article reports that:
“Freshmen in college wade through a blizzard of calculus, physics and chemistry in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. And then many wash out.”
- 40 percent of students planning engineering and science majors eventually switch to other majors or fail to get any degree
- The numbers increase to 60 percent when pre-medical students, who typically have the strongest SAT scores and high school science preparation, are included
However, after accounting for the lack of K – 12 preparation and the lack of college support, many students still find college-level coursework in engineering and math abstract and boring, while many such students find majors in business and the arts more passionate and engaging. Again, this should be pointed out to students in their secondary schools as they are contemplating their college majors and making important decisions regarding their high school course schedule. I too, found my math and science classes at Northeastern boring and abstract while my business management and computer programming classes were challenging and engaging. However, I have no regrets at having chosen Northeastern University, which has the largest cooperative education program in the world. I had 18 months of full-time professional experience at graduation and had my choice of jobs throughout the country, eventually accepting a job at IBM in San Jose California as a systems design analyst.
Although Northeastern was the only college that I applied to, before wasting thousands of dollars, parents and students need to take a much closer look at the colleges that students apply to and the majors that students select. Perhaps, this is even more important for students pursuing STEM-related careers. Choosing the right college can make all of the difference between getting a degree and not getting a degree.
According to the United Negro College Fund:
- Nine of the top ten colleges that graduate the most African Americans who go on to earn Ph.D.s are HBCUs
- Spelman College and Bennett College produce over half of the nation’s African American female doctorates in all science fields
- Xavier University (LA) is the #1 producer of African Americans entering medical school
- Seven of the eleven producers of African Americans undergraduate degrees in engineering are HBCUs (including #1 North Carolina A&T)
- The top three producers of African American undergraduate degrees in health professions are Southern University, Florida A&M, and Howard
- Eight of the top nine producers of African American undergraduate degrees in mathematics are Morehouse, South Carolina State, Alabama State, Spelman, Southern, Tennessee State, Hampton, and Howard
Clearly, some colleges are experiencing much higher levels of success with students in STEM-related fields.