Student Attraction, Persistence and Retention in STEM Programs: Successes and Continuing Challenges

  •  Alec Sithole    
  •  Edward T. Chiyaka    
  •  Peter McCarthy    
  •  Davison M. Mupinga    
  •  Brian K. Bucklein    
  •  Joachim Kibirige    


Low student enrollment and high attrition rates in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education are major challenges in higher education. Many STEM entrants end-up switching their majors to non-STEM fields, perform poorly relative to their peers in other programs, and/or drop out of college without earning any academic qualification. Therefore, it is important to examine strategies for reducing attrition in STEM programs. This paper reviews the major factors impeding student interest, success, and persistence in STEM programs, and current institutional practices aimed at addressing these issues. Suggested institutional strategies to improve persistence in STEM programs and their implications that are discussed in this paper include: provision of orientation programs, adoption of early warning systems, Mathematics review sessions, creation of student learning communities, professional development of faculty, as well as collaborative and outreach programs. It is hoped that this review will encourage debate toward solving the major challenges facing STEM education.

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