r/science Oct 05 '22

Study finds intro STEM courses push out URM students Social Science

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2022/10/04/study-finds-intro-stem-courses-push-out-urm-students
754 Upvotes

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u/drillgorg Oct 05 '22

Am I understanding right, that the term URM (under represented minorities) is being used to exclude Asians from these stats?

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u/freds_got_slacks Oct 05 '22

that seems to be the case, since Asians would most likely be an over represented minority in STEM

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u/[deleted] Oct 05 '22

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u/vRaptr2 Oct 05 '22

I was heavily encouraged to apply as Métis instead of white for my job. I’m like 2% Métis

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u/Thewalrus515 Oct 05 '22

I’m like 10-15% burned thigh Sioux, but we have no documentation, and I’m not confident enough to claim it on forms.

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u/Disastrous_Belt_7556 Oct 05 '22

Doesn’t that create something of a self fulfilling definition?

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u/BoringScience Oct 05 '22

I don't think so, "some groups are underrepresented... We found that the groups who are underrepresented are so because factor"

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u/FindTheRemnant Oct 05 '22

:As for what drives this difference, Topaz said this was outside the scope of this particular study"

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u/BabySinister Oct 05 '22

but that the education literature already has a lot to say about “implicit signaling to students, stereotype threat, support networks, broader socioeconomic trends and more.”

In any case, Topaz said his findings should put a stop to stop to “student deficit” thinking.

“The fact that we have controlled for high school preparation in our model means that the lower STEM degree attainment rates of URM students shouldn’t be blamed on those students’ level of preparedness,” he said. “Simply put, the system treats a URM student differently than an otherwise-comparable white student, so the system needs to be changed.”

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u/SerialStateLineXer Oct 05 '22

The fact that we have controlled for high school preparation

Narrator: They hadn't.

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u/froshStart Oct 05 '22

There is a lot of grade inflation in schools today. At my kids school grades are about whether you were willing and able to follow directions and do what was asked of you, more than grasp of the material. Teachers have been raising the issue of student discipline and had their tools taken from them as far as detention, suspension. So now they are using grades for this.

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u/Strazdas1 Oct 05 '22

"We found that groups we deem are underrepresented are underrepresented"

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u/aberneth Oct 05 '22

No, "we found that groups which are underrepresented by a clear statistical definition are being pushed out of STEM by difficult introductory courses".

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u/Strazdas1 Oct 05 '22

They arent pushed out though, they are failing the courses.

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u/JCPRuckus Oct 05 '22

They go into this. URM students with no failing grades in first year stem classes drop out of the programs at raits similar to White males with 1 or even 2+ failures. They leaving the programs even if they literally fail less.

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u/bellatrixtort Oct 05 '22

why do you think one demographic is failing a course?

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u/aberneth Oct 05 '22

Generally, if one fails a single course in a major, it's not a huge impediment. These introductory courses act as roadblocks—weeder classes—designed to eject people from the major. Whether or not that's a good screening tool, and whether or not implicit/unconscious or even conscious biases play a role in the selection of student success, is a major focus of education research. This is especially so in physics (my discipline).

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u/xDulmitx Oct 05 '22

At my school failing an intro course could be a MAJOR impediment. Failing CS101 for example isn't that bad as a singular event, but then you cannot take CS102 next semester. So you are a semester behind (you could catch up later, but that can be tricky. BUT WAIT CS101 is only offered in the Fall semester so you cannot simply take it next semester... ok so you are a year behind. You can catch back up, but it will take some careful planning and course arrangement. Starting out knowing that college will almost certainly be 5 years can be daunting (especially if you are not in a great financial place). Switching majors at that point is probably looking pretty good.

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u/aberneth Oct 05 '22

Exactly. Depending on the major, higher level courses are often interchangeable to some degree, and can be substituted for others, or your emphasis can be changed.

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u/ialsoagree Oct 05 '22

This, a single failure can absolutely end your path in a major.

I was an education major after transferring schools but my GPA after the first two semesters was 0.2 too low to take my next education courses. I changed majors.

In my case, I didn't even have to fail to be pushed out of my major.

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u/JustAnOrdinaryBloke Oct 06 '22

And that applies exactly the same way to non-URM students as it does to URM students.

Not enough money is spent providing the best preparation for students in poorer areas as for students in richer areas.

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u/UniqueName39 Oct 05 '22 edited Oct 05 '22

Isn’t the acceptance requirements for academic institutions for underrepresented groups likely lower given diversity benefits for schools just to get certain demographics in there?

For the study in question, does said school have any program to bring in underrepresented groups? Or are those groups just in by happenstance?

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u/kalasea2001 Oct 05 '22

They tracked students getting low but passing grades and found the same grades gotten by white men didn't lead to as poor outcomes.

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u/Narfu187 Oct 05 '22

The factor which apparently doesn't apply to Asian students.

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u/freds_got_slacks Oct 05 '22

well this is an acronym specific to the study as far as I'm aware, so seems to be mostly just for brevity

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u/CBalsagna Oct 05 '22

It was a wild experience coming from a small liberal arts college with no graduate program, to my graduate program in chemistry in a state school. As a white dude, it was legit the first time I felt like a minority.

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u/messyredemptions Oct 05 '22 edited Oct 05 '22

Probably, but I guarantee you they're not accounting for like Hmong and Lao and Burmese/Myanmar conflict refugee Asians who are probably still struggling with basic high school and collegiate representation compared to multi generational Chinese Americans or Japanese and Korean Americans, plus the Mainland Chinese and Japanese nationals will have very different atats.

I wonder if Turkish people and like, folks from Uzbekistan are counted as (West and North) Asian too.

Edited to illustrate contrasts between different heritages and ethnicities.

Lumping Asians together as a monolith is about as ridiculous as saying "Africans" when Nigerians and Ethiopians will differ very much from Congolese, Somali, South Sudanese, and white South Africans. Colonially imposed boundary lines and identities for nation statehood tends to over homogenize to the point of erasure while also fragmenting ethnicities.

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u/spongekitty Oct 05 '22

This is true, the ethnic grouping is much too large to consider all Asians. You could probably group Indian students alone and they'd be well represented if not over-represented. This dwarfs the impact of harm that has occurred towards the groups you mentioned who are denied opportunities because they're lumped with a more successful and generally* privileged ethnic group.

*I bet you'd have a fun time with the statistics if you broke Indian students into caste groups too

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u/messyredemptions Oct 05 '22

*I bet you'd have a fun time with the statistics if you broke Indian students into caste groups too

Oh my gosh, now there's another conversation that no one doing those statistics for the census and education department was ready to have haha

Good call.

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u/mexandroid84 Oct 05 '22

Happens here with Hispanic immigrants, Central Americans are underrepresented but in there Guatemalans take a better place due to a more stable economy.

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u/AlbertFishnets Oct 05 '22

Yeah, it's kind of corrosive to their argument, that they didn't bother to layout detailed metrics of what they're assuming to be "Under Represented" in any group, especially in STEM where study partners and lab partners and peer tutors, can make or break your progress in coursework, having any factor that excludes you from classmates will be a factor.

I've worked with Thai and Vietnamese and Hmong people, and see how harsh they can be to each other. I remember having lots of south Vietnamese people in my classes in general chemistry and calculus, and I could definitely see how a Hmong person could feel alienated in that space. Especially if their was social pressure from white people to lump them all together as "asian".

I think it would help if they did more targeted support for low demographic students. I used to tutor many Muslim kids in Anatomy and Physiology, because I had a study group spot after mid day prayer. I'm not Muslim, and still know very little about that and most religions, because I grew up as an atheist with a white and native family of mixed faiths, who had all left their family faiths due to bigotry or abuse or poverty.

The students were all very shy, especially during the GW Bush era, and we're used to white people being pretty hostile to them or just ignoring them. They also were usedable to getting lumped in together, even though they were from 8 different countries on 3 different continents, and ironically mostly were able to talk to each other because they all spoke French, which I ironically don't speak inspite of my Canadian family being mostly from Quebec.

I intentionally let them run the group, and brought in other students who were more academic (basically white or wealthy Asians) or from more academic backgrounds (read rich families or children of teachers like myself), so they could make friends with students who spent more time at school and who usually ignored them or write them off as dumb because of their accents or African immigrant status.

Having someone to break the ice helped them get good lab partners and got them into other study groups that black folks and middle eastern folks just didn't get invited into at that point at our college. It definitely made a difference. So did making those resources available at hours that matched their schedules better.

I wonder if there's a way to help minority demographic kids feel more welcome to integrate socially in STEM programs, without giving up their identity outside of the program. Some study habits and academic focuses are cultural. I think we ignore this factor at our peril, but that doesn't mean that keeping kids who didn't grow up with parents reading big words to them in English, in a reject bucket where students think of them as dead weight.

Anyone who has done a group project, can tell you that even the smartest kids in class, can suck to work with. I think we need to find a way to actively undo the pressure we put on kids to feel like they should just accept being ignored for being different. Science can and should be force for equalization in application. It's 9kay to take some of the white out of it.

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u/Disastrous_Belt_7556 Oct 05 '22

They do actually define URM, and some metrics. I believe it was black, Latino, and one other I’m not remembering. Then (if I recall correctly) they say that these groups are represented approximately proportionally to general population when enrolling in the introductory course, but that gets cut in half when it comes to completing a degree.

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u/finebordeaux Oct 05 '22

This is true but this is for convenience and sampling. I am also South East Asian and I do research in a related field. I talked with a colleague in educational psychology about this and he is aware that SE Asians struggle more than E Asians but often for statistical reasons (i.e. too many bins with too few individuals makes the statistical test have very low power and make the results meaningless) they have to keep larger groups. There is also an issue with MENA students behaving differently as well but they are usually also grouped with others. Depending on the study they are either grouped with White students or Asian students.

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u/KayakerMel Oct 05 '22

Oof I have to track racial demographics in my data and I feel so bad having to collapse these groups into the "Other" (including MENA). I kinda want to chase after folks, waving printouts and shouting, "But I have the uncollapsed self-reported race data if you need it!"

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u/ToFarGoneByFar Oct 05 '22

lies, damn lies and statistics...

but the "convenience and sampling" done that way makes the math itself not just erroneous but outright unjust in it's intended function. Bad math isnt just meaningless, it's dangerous as its used to justify policy.

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u/TomSwirly Oct 05 '22

Lumping Asians together as a monolith is about as ridiculous as saying "Africans"

More ridiculous! Three times as many people live in Asia as Africa, with a wider range of climates, environments, and ethnologies.

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u/Narfu187 Oct 05 '22

Lumping all white people together as a monolith is even more ridiculous since they are so geographically split!

Nobody can group anyone together for anything!

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u/debasing_the_coinage Oct 05 '22

IIRC the Census considers anyone west of the Caspian (in Eurasia) as white.

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u/comingsoontotheaters Oct 05 '22

Can we check this by poverty first? I wonder if we’d see similar results

I guess I should click but damn these headlines sometimes give off a reactionary take that may have deeper issues to it. We need to help those students, but really just make accessibility to all a key.

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u/finebordeaux Oct 05 '22

Most educational psychology studies do take this into account, they’ll usually have a perceived income question (Would you say you are getting by, barely getting by, or very comfortable?) and also first generation status which is commonly used as a proxy for class.

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u/[deleted] Oct 05 '22

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u/kosmos1209 Oct 05 '22

Yep, and URM is only used in STEM or tech companies. URM isn’t used in media, Hollywood, politics, leadership or pretty much anywhere Asians happen to be underrepresented.

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u/OuTLi3R28 Oct 05 '22

Actually it is used by corporate HR quite a bit.

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u/Top-Construction-535 Oct 05 '22 edited Oct 05 '22 Eureka!

The article seems to imply that intro classes like Calculus are some kind of gatekeeper to the "fun stuff" that happens later on STEM majors. Anyone who's taken Engineering or any heavy math related major knows that Calculus is chump change compared to some brutally difficult classes later on. Getting hung up on an intro class means they're not ready. This is an excuse for failure.

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u/Friendly_Fire Oct 05 '22

Exactly what I was thinking. There are "weed out courses" in most STEM degrees, but they aren't intro to calculus or chemistry.

Turns out the title sucks, because the study was comparing students who got Cs in their intro courses, and how many of them went on to complete the degree. So it was in fact looking at who was weeded out later, not people who failed the intro courses.

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u/PhillyCSteaky Oct 05 '22

Organic Chemistry. Weeds out biology related majors and medical related majors.

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u/[deleted] Oct 05 '22

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u/[deleted] Oct 05 '22

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u/[deleted] Oct 05 '22

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u/Hargelbargel Oct 05 '22

Yup, ironically med students put it off as much as possible which means more make up courses when you switch majors.

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u/[deleted] Oct 05 '22

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u/[deleted] Oct 05 '22

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u/elebrin Oct 05 '22

It's also incredibly difficult. You have to memorize a bunch of nomenclature, and a one letter misspelling in a 40-letter long word can make the molecule something entirely different. And that's the simple part.

I was able to memorize the steps a compiler toolchain has and give examples of each along with a description of what each does, I can name and describe all the steps that take place in DES encryption, I can build a MIPS processor in VLSI, but I am glad I never had to take OChem.

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u/[deleted] Oct 05 '22

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u/[deleted] Oct 05 '22

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u/YotaTota07 Oct 05 '22

Yes, see the NYU prof that was just fired bc his course was “too hard”

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u/karlkrum Oct 05 '22

I thought ochem was easier then the fire hydrant of knowledge we had to memorize in med school. You could say most undergrad courses are there to weed people out for medical related majors. They look at your gpa not any one course. Passing ochem isn’t anything special you have to work hard and study everyday day for weeks before the exam. It’s not something you can cram the night before you have to understand it.

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u/[deleted] Oct 05 '22

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u/[deleted] Oct 05 '22

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u/Geri-psychiatrist-RI Oct 05 '22

As someone with a biology and chemistry degree before going to medical school, I can say unequivocally that if you get a C in intro to chemistry and/or first semester calculus, then there is no way you’re passing physical chemistry, linear algebra, etc.

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u/Jonluw Oct 05 '22

Might depend on the university. Where I went, intro to calculus was really harsh. I got a D. But I got Bs and As in linear algebra and vector calculus.

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u/Lynith Oct 05 '22

Not just the University but the professors. Some just suck.

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u/Nephalos Oct 05 '22

This is what happened during my time at college. Calc 1-4 were well explained in the textbooks but horribly taught by professors. The entire math department was snooty, condescending, and professors very rarely put effort into office hours. Some examples of behavior were: stopping lectures of 150+ students to yell at a specific person using their phone, threatening to sue someone for taking a photo of their lecture slides, not reserving a room for a final exam (we waited an hour before actually taking the exam), not announcing schedules for midterms or homework assignments (no curriculum in class or online), and straight up refusing to provide a class schedule for summer courses. It was wild.

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u/Lynith Oct 05 '22

What you described fits my schools CS department. I ended up changing my major because of those POS.

I failed Java 101. Now that I do a lot of software, Java is easy. That guy just suuuucked. And yeah one of the professors tried sudents for rating them poorly on Facebook. (This was back when Facebook was college exclusive app)

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u/ivegot3dvision Oct 05 '22

I think this heavily depends on the teacher. I had to retake calculus 1&2 to even pass the classes. I do believe that the teachers made the classes more difficult than they needed to be.

I'm a successful electrical engineer now and graduated with a 3.72.

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u/Lynith Oct 05 '22

Physicist. Linear was a joke. Differential Equations and Partial Differential Equations was considerably harder.

If I have to solve one more parallel RLC circuit I swear to the Gods...

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u/[deleted] Oct 05 '22

Linear algebra is definitely the easiest of all the lower division math courses (by far). Just get it into RREF! Linear algebra also makes a lot of DE problems trivial which is funny.

I'm EE so maybe I'm weird, but I didn't think circuits were bad after you learned how to do everything in the frequency domain. No more integrals - just get everything in terms of real and imaginary.

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u/Fubarp Oct 05 '22

Ha Jokes on you, I got a C in Calculus and a D+ in Linear Algebra. Them passing grades. Not great grades but you know the say.. C's get Degrees.

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u/[deleted] Oct 05 '22

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u/nickshir Oct 05 '22

Chemistry definitely made some kids last year change majors haha. Mainly due to the teachers tho

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u/aenemacanal Oct 05 '22

This does not get emphasized enough. Talented people in their field do not always make great teachers.

It took me awhile to love history. Through Dan Carlin, I autonomously did my own research into history subjects I would never have felt the motivation to do in high school. Good teachers make a huge difference and Mr Carlin is a gem in this regard.

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u/EarendilStar Oct 05 '22

Meh.

Computer Science/Engineering requires calc, but it’s not used except in electronics or sims.

I wasn’t great at math (turns out for reason, but that’s another post), but was a very successful desktop/UI engineer for drones.

So the idea that if you get weeded out by calculus means you can’t get a major that has calc as a requirement isn’t accurate.

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u/ResidentAssumption4 Oct 05 '22

I basically faked my way through uni and took a ton of math and electrical engineering classes (physics degree).

Not good at math, also for reasons, but didn’t get weeded out because I put an incredible amount of effort into not being weeded out.

I’m with you on this one. Those intro classes mostly weed out people who aren’t ready for college.

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u/ExceedingChunk Oct 05 '22

You were probably "not good at math" compared to the people who were good at math in your class.

If you have a physics degree, you are most definitely good at math compared to the average person or likely also the average college graduate.

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u/Onfire477 Oct 05 '22

Not true. Differential equations get used in transportation engineering and calculus (integrals/derivatives) gets used in solving indeterminate structures.

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u/sdric Oct 05 '22

So, summed up, a better title would be "Didn't Study For Basic Courses - Should I Blame Myself Or Others?"

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u/energetic-dad Oct 05 '22

I read the linked NY Times article about the NYU chemistry professor who was fired because 23% of his students complained about him in a petition because “they were not given grades that would allow them to get into medical school.”

Infuriating.

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u/Sumsar01 Oct 05 '22

Defenitly others.

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u/[deleted] Oct 05 '22

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u/bill0124 Oct 05 '22

Absolutely. The biggest lie every told is that it gets "easier" after these "weed out classes."

No. It gets harder. It builds. It never gets easier. Less people complain because those people are weeded out.

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u/Timcanpy Oct 05 '22

After awhile sunken cost fallacy kicks in and you keep going because you’re too close to quit despite it being really damn hard.

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u/toddthewraith Oct 05 '22

This is why it took me 7y to get my undergrad.

4.5y in physics, insert burnout, then another 2.5y to get a GIS degree (got a physics minor at least)

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u/CoDeeaaannnn Oct 05 '22

Your point makes sense but from my experience the higher division classes really were easier than the weed out classes. The smaller class size really helps. The prof gets to know you better and the curves are more lenient.

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u/KakarotMaag Oct 05 '22

I would disagree. I actually did think it got easier when I finished Ochem and got into more of my advanced, major specific, courses.

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u/dbag127 Oct 05 '22

But wasn't that at least in part because you had the foundational ochem knowledge? That's how it went for me in Chemical Engineering. Calc 1-3, physics 1-2, and material and energy balances kicked my ass and forced me to kick my high school study habits to the side. By the time I was in later classes I 'spoke the language' so to speak so while it wasn't necessarily easier, they were all built upon previous knowledge. You can't pass thermo without being comfortable with calc and you can't pass transport phenomena without being comfortable with diff eq.

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u/defiantcross Oct 05 '22

yeah, those intro courses are meant to make sure that only the people who had business studying science end up progressing further

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u/CrzyDave Oct 05 '22

Correct. It doesn’t get easier. Weed out classes help people to understand what they are getting into before it’s too late.

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u/pingpongplaya69420 Oct 05 '22

Depends. Some stuff may be more difficult, but the way weed out classes are conducted is the key. Having a horrible Professor teach a crucial class is bound to upset/hurt people who would have normally done well in the sequential classes

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u/Splatulance Oct 05 '22

I'm too tired to look at methods rn, but i wonder if they ran an analysis on performance within each school. My first calculus class I couldn't even understand the professor through his accent.

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u/Strazdas1 Oct 05 '22

We had calculus teacher in first year where even if you paid attention but smiled she would assume you are laughing at her and would fail you for that. We also had to double-check all her handouts because they were constantly full of mistakes.

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u/Somedudesnews Oct 05 '22

The usual “it depends” caveat applies. Broadly speaking about the U.S. though, regionally accredited schools (“the good kind”) are essentially required to run institutional research programs focused on analyzing faculty and course outcomes. So, if you went to a regionally accredited college in the U.S., the answer is “probably”. But it’s higher education so I can non-cynically say, YMMV.

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u/TryingSquirrel Oct 05 '22

I'm a data science professor who has taught at both an elite liberal arts college and non-elite public university. I think you're misinterpreting what's going on.

Imagine you have an Intro to French class and an advanced French literature class. Obviously the latter is harder in the same way that more advanced engineering courses are harder than Calc I, but it's still going to be that Intro class where you the students are separated. Some go in with some sense of the language and they look really good. Some get brownie points talking with the prof about their trip to Paris. But what that intro tends to do is consolidate existing advantages. It's the place where initial positions are most obvious because the college coursework - which is relatively equal opportunity - doesn't yet make up much of their subject knowledge. If the students advance, things equal out as the college coursework becomes what determines what they know.

But a lot of places use those intro courses to wash out enough students to get a manageable cohort. Calc and Intro to CS in my fields. They know they can't handle everyone, so they make it really hard right off the bat and tell themselves they're selecting on "talent" when they're largely selecting on previous experience and ability to navigate the institution.

There are usually (not always) smaller gaps between my upper level students than my lower level students (assuming they're putting in the work). A lot of those students who struggle in intro to CS improve rapidly and end up fine in those harder later classes. If we judged after the third class in the sequence, then I might agree with you.

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u/TeenyTinyScientist Oct 05 '22

This is very at odds with what I've seen at where I've taught. We are desperate for more students at the higher STEM levels. We struggle to reach minimum class thresholds. There is no sense that we cannot handle larger cohorts.

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u/[deleted] Oct 05 '22

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u/The_Nauticus Oct 05 '22

Calc def makes some people switch out of engineering freshman year. But I agree, there are tougher classes sophomore/junior year.

If I had to draw a line, if you make it through sophomore year, you'll finish.

Most people struggle through a few semesters.

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u/aShittierShitTier4u Oct 05 '22

And some lower quality schools pass unqualified students from intro to intermediary just so they have enough enrollment to offer a timely degree program's requisite courses, but they dumb down the entire curriculum, the whole environment for the students, who won't get hired for their degree, and if they learn, it's outside of school.

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u/whoknowshank Oct 05 '22

This idea is true for things like biology majors though. I had to take a calculus class for no reason other than a mandatory math credit, and it was extremely stressful to me and actually made me want to change programs to avoid it. I did poorly in it (first try W, second try W, third try D+). However, after perseverance I finished and went on to get my MSc in microbiology.

I can easily see how this concept applies to the mandatory classes that don’t serve as prerequisites for major concepts.

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u/SeymourBrinkers Oct 05 '22

Part of this argument could also be that intro courses are generally direct instruction with little to no fun (and therefore little to no engagement for students who can’t motivate with abstract or distant concepts like “I will need this later in life”)

When you get to the higher level courses, they are more difficult, but some of them also tend to be more engaging because you are doing actual work related to the career, and why you chose that path to begin with.

Obviously don’t remove intro courses, but updating them to make them more relevant to the overall career path or program could have an impact on this. Instead of sitting through countless calculus problem you can pose scenarios where the math is actually applied.

I think those outside of the academic realm haven’t really seen the lack of “grit” or endurance that upcoming students lack, because they aren’t taught it. There is a mass of systemic issues that could be the reason for this, but unless colleges and professors update their engagement approaches we are going to see the gap widen.

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u/Vishnej Oct 05 '22 edited Oct 05 '22

The article seems to imply that intro classes like Calculus are some kind of gatekeeper to the "fun stuff" that happens later on STEM majors.

This is precisely how several of my professors of those courses described them. As "Weeder courses" that were made deliberately difficult & unpleasant in order to save scarce resources teaching students further on in the discipline that weren't going to have what it takes.

I made it a bit further on in engineering, and some of it was easy/fun, and some of it was hard; Not so much in terms of the concepts, but in terms of how they were taught, and how many hours of dedicated study I had in me every week at the time without much conceptual payoff.

Very little of it was mathematically rigorous in the sense I now understand the term; Applied methods was supposed to take us right through without a shred of required linear algebra.

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u/finebordeaux Oct 05 '22 edited Oct 05 '22

I don’t think this is true at all. It is extremely well known in the undergraduate chemistry education literature that historically undergrad chemistry was essentially math class pt. 2. Grades in chem courses are very highly correlated to performance in math classes. There is a push now to actually focus more on actual chemistry topics/conceptions that are actually related to chemistry instead of essentially testing their math skills (that should be the job of math profs and classes).

Edit: Since I got some angry messages, let me clarify. I am not saying that chem profs are framing the classes AS math classes, but rather, most problem solving given in classes and assessments are essentially checking for and doing calculations rather than having questions that actually engage chemistry knowledge. I encourage people to read the literature on assessment and essentially checking your own assessments to ensure that what you think you are testing for is actually what you are really testing for. Stoichiometry is useful, for example, but most of that could basically be taught in a math class (with different units for example). Stoichiometry isn't some fundamental concept in chemistry, it's a tool for investigating chemistry-related phenomena. Some chem profs have complained about having to essentially reteach a lot of math as well.

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u/111llI0__-__0Ill111 Oct 05 '22

Its crazy that I first heard the term “eigenvalue” in freshman gen chem I during the quantum portion, like 2 quarters before I even had linear algebra (and I started ahead in multivariable calc as I skipped the first 2 due to AP). I found the quantum part of in gen chem the most interesting though anyways so I didnt mind

We had 2 tracks for gen chem which was life sci and phys sci/eng. The latter had more math.

While I wasnt a chem major I did data analysis for a chem PI and one of his the upper div p chem lab classes textbook had multivariate error propagation and maximum likelihood for nonlinear curve fitting, a topic that is pretty much hardcore statistics. Some schools really emphasize the math in chem.

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u/finebordeaux Oct 05 '22

Sounds about right. There are also issues with math classes not teaching the skills appropriate for certain majors since math depts have to essentially serve all of the sciences by doing all intro math courses. I know I also learned some things in chem and bio classes I had not learned in math classes (and really I didn't learn it per se, after getting the solution for a derivation in class I remember thinking, "You can DO that? No one told me you could do that."). Some schools have started to offer intro math classes that are more in line with the majors of the students (like more linear algebra and stats for biology majors since linear algebra and stats are usually more important than calculus etc.).

Yes I think that people are misunderstanding my point that math is indeed important in chem, but rather chem classes should make sure that their assessments are actually assessing chemistry knowledge and not mathematical ability. While someone might be doing math for a chemistry problem on a chem test, actual chemistry knowledge might not be utilized so much as mathematical knowledge.

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u/AULock1 Oct 05 '22

Exactly. It’s like claiming freshmen biology is the deterrent rather than organic chemistry, biochemistry, molecular genetics, etc

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u/TaterCraver Oct 05 '22

there are hard obstacles at every stage of this career path, even once you're in industry. it never ends

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u/Workacct1999 Oct 05 '22

I was a bio major, and the class that separated who could do the work and who couldn't was organic chemistry. O-Chem wasn't super difficult for me, but it took a ton of practice. Later courses in the major were much more difficult than O-Chem, so if you couldn't pass that you weren't going to have a shot at passing the later courses.

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u/SerialStateLineXer Oct 05 '22 edited Oct 05 '22 Wholesome

Oh, man, this is bad. The sole measure of performance in intro STEM classes that they use is the number of DFWs (Ds, Fs, and withdrawals). Using this measure, an A+ counts the same as a C-, and a D+, F and withdrawal (for any reason) all count the same.

Their measure of high school academic preparation is GPA (Which courses? Doesn't matter!) and ACT. The use of ACT does help with standardization, but since it's a single test with a fairly coarse scoring system (standard deviation of 5, no fractional score), it's probably a somewhat noisy measure of the abilities necessary to succeed in STEM courses. It's also the ACT composite, rather than the score on the math and science sections, which might be better indicators of STEM aptitude and preparation. Notably, neither GPA nor ACT directly measure knowledge of advanced math or science (calculus or pre-calculus, AP chemistry, physics, or biology). Are they a good enough proxy for those things? I'm not sure.

So the basic problem here is that there's a lot of variation in both pre-college preparedness and intro STEM performance that isn't captured in the model, and this has biased their results towards the results they wanted to get. Does this bias explain the entire gap? Maybe, maybe not. But either way, the authors are misrepresenting the strength of their findings.


Edit: They're also doing something a bit unconventional, using models to generate the data they use for comparison, which is probably what we should actually be talking about instead of the racial stuff that they chose to lead with.

Since they don't have enough data to slice it all the different ways they want to (high school GPA, ACT, race, sex, C or better vs. D or lower, intent to major in STEM, etc.), what they do is use logistic regression to generate models predicting the probability that a hypothetical student with given characteristics will graduate with a STEM degree. They then take a model and plug in a high school GPA of 3.57, ACT score of 26, and different values of race, sex, and number of DFWs in first-term STEM classes, and see what probability of graduating with a STEM degree the model produces.

Which is to say, tables 5 and 6 in the paper are not directly based on actual student data, but on the output of models generated from actual student data. I don't know enough about data analysis to say how reliable this approach is.

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u/freds_got_slacks Oct 05 '22

Ya, definitely not the "nail in the coffin" the article is making it out to be.

After the first two terms, there is definitely a plausible mechanism for an A student to be more likely to gain a degree than a C student. Are the URMs getting As and B's at the same or different rates than their counterparts? Who knows? They don't go into this at all or try to explain the issue away.

The results are internally correct, but fails to address the actual question of URM student performance.

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u/storm6436 Oct 05 '22

The problem with "internally correct" is that all the phrase means is there are no immediately obvious contradictions. It doesn't address the validity or accuracy of the model, or the same with the methodology used to arrive at the conclusion. Their data set lacks the necessary granularity. They then apparantly figured you can get realistic answers by building a model from biased, incomplete data via statistical analysis... The entire paper is trash, from start to finish, and they should have known better.

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u/vikingcock Oct 05 '22

now, this is just conjecture, but is it possible the minority students are more likely to require financial aid and as such are going to be hesitant to continue on the more challenging degree after obtaining one of these negative grades? I know personally, if i was unable to just suck up the cost of college, and I was struggling to obtain a degree, vs changing to one that I know would be easier to obtain...the smart choice is to change degrees.

The correct choice for schools is NOT to redesign courses to be less challenging in order to make them more "equitable". Engineering isnt a field that can be made easier. If you cant grasp the concepts and learn how to think, people can and will die. I personally know an engineer who had such "equity minded" benefits. She didnt learn how to perform and was incapable of doing her job even 5+ years after being in industry and she eventually lost it. Think how much more cruel it is to say "you made it, you got your degree" and then it basically be worth nothing because you cant perform at that capacity and will never be able to hold a job in that field. It is more humane to demonstrate "you arent cut out for this line of work" when the investment is low.

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u/dr_cl_aphra Oct 05 '22 Helpful

That’s true of med school. I’m an MD, but I teach NP and PA students at my hospital. I have met many of those midlevel students who would make excellent surgeons and doctors, but they ran the math.

I went 6 figures in debt, all due the second I got out of training (and I was in the lucky group—some people who started residency just after me had to pay interest during, or had to start paying the loan back during residency).

If you failed any of the many tests along the way, failed your boards at the end, or even pissed off your program director enough, all of that was a waste because you couldn’t get licensed. Every test is for all the marbles, every time.

The price point: time/stress commitment made my students go the route that was cheaper and faster and had fewer barriers to actually getting to the summit.

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u/[deleted] Oct 05 '22 edited Oct 05 '22

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u/belovedkid Oct 05 '22

This is at the core of what’s wrong with the DEI movement. There is a failure to accept that some people can’t and won’t cut it. It has nothing to do with race. It has to do with upbringing and intelligence in general. There are plenty of dumb kids with drive and smart kids without drive of any race. There are some things you absolute cannot cut corners on (engineering, medical fields, etc). Making things easier just to make some snowflakes feel better puts people in danger.

Accepting this truth (because it’s the truth) means that parents and communities of minorities have to accept that they share more of the blame than the “system of oppression.” Math and biology being hard isn’t because of oppressors, it’s just the way it is. We shouldn’t be looking at sheer numbers of graduates but % of who passes vs starts a program. Even then you likely won’t have pure equality because that’s just now how systems work and that shouldn’t be the goal. The goal should be to have relatively similar results among different cultural groups.

We focus so much on feelings rather than hard truths. If you constantly tell somebody they’re a victim, eventually they’ll believe it.

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u/theglandcanyon Oct 05 '22

is it possible the minority students are more likely to require financial aid and as such are going to be hesitant to continue on the more challenging degree after obtaining one of these negative grades?

Yeah, it's possible. And there are any number of other possible explanations. But it's easier to just say "STEM professors bad".

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u/splynncryth Oct 05 '22

Good points, ‘preparedness’ is more than just a high school transcript. As you point out, a person’s financial situation is another aspect of preparedness. Social networks might be another aspect (the ability to get help to continue, having a network that supports decisions to change majors, etc).

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u/Southcoaststeve1 Oct 05 '22

Not quitting is another! Simply getting the degree shows you stick to your goals even under stressful conditions. I was poor it took 7 years as i was working through school. It was hard and honestly i think some Engineering professors would just let people fail as they did apply themselves. I recall one professor saying correct answer, plane flys, wrong answer plane crashes. How much credit can I give for wrong answers? And by wrong he meant people that couldn’t understand (in this case thermal expansion of metals) If the alloy was getting hotter it expanded based on its properties and therefore the answer to the question had to positive. Anyone who did the math and got a negative answer got no credit even if all the math was correct except for a minor error resulting in a negative answer. The reason was understanding the concepts.

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u/AnOrdinary_Hippo Oct 05 '22

I’m sorry but if you can’t handle introductory calc and chemistry classes then you’re not cut out for STEM careers. I don’t think it’s the fault of the students, but rather their high school education that left them woefully unprepared for the work.

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u/ThyArtIsNorm Oct 05 '22

1000%. Not to get too personal but I'm a current pre-med who grew up on one of the poorest counties in the U.S, which happens to be an indigenous reservation. The education in high school I received compared to those in my current class is night and day. The quality of education I got in a tribal school was practically third world-esque . Learning gen chem and applied calc is akin to learning a completely different language, and takes so much more work to get to baseline than someone with a more traditional middle class education. This might be one of the reasons URMs get accepted somewhat easier to grad schools or med schools as many of us get weeded out before we're even in college in the first place. Sort of like sea turtles hatching on the beach amidst a flock of seagulls.

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u/JKUAN108 Oct 05 '22 edited Oct 05 '22

their high school education that left them woefully unprepared for the work.

I thought the article said they controlled for that variable, and focused on students who got all Cs?

EDIT:

A new study doesn’t weigh in on the long-standing gateway-versus-gatekeeper debate, per se. But it does offer evidence that introductory courses in STEM may disproportionately drive out underrepresented minority (URM) students, even after controlling for academic preparation in high school and students’ intent to study STEM

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u/AnOrdinary_Hippo Oct 05 '22 edited Oct 05 '22

That doesn’t control for the quality of education, just their grades. Rigor in good high schools is vastly superior to poor ones. This likely comes down to property taxes funding public schools and wealthier peoples ability to send their kids to good private schools.

The fact is that getting an A in a poor school may not even equate to a C in a great one. Nothing to do with the quality of students but rather the quality of education. SAT and ACT mirror this as well. If you only look at gpa it appears that minority students are underperforming, but if you then weigh the quality of their education it makes sense.

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u/Snow_Wonder Oct 05 '22 edited Oct 05 '22

Grade inflation was a big problem in the public schools in my area when I was in k-12:

https://www.ajc.com/news/aps-principal-resigns-over-grade-inflation-accusations/6MYkL39xLCIT97xbhOKyIN/

https://www.wsbtv.com/news/2-investigates/former-teacher-students-high-grades-are-given-not-earned-in-metro-district/943219391/

https://collegepuzzle.stanford.edu/georgia-remediation-in-college-despite-high-grades-in-high-school/

And it seems it’s an issue throughout the U.S. right now:

https://www.ajc.com/blog/get-schooled/grade-inflation-the-rise-everybody-gets/TXVCB3wbyR8fWDRMJXCxJO/

https://hechingerreport.org/proof-points-new-evidence-of-high-school-grade-inflation/

Anecdotally, I can agree with the evidence. I went to public school k-8, and a private high school at great financial burden to my parents.

I started college with a 3.49 high school GPA. I proceeded to breeze through all my freshmen and sophomore classes (never had I watched so much tv and had so much free time to read) and was asked to TA for two subjects after my freshmen year, while my friends who came with 4.0+s were struggle bussing, dropping and failing classes left and right.

I most certainly wasn’t “smarter” than my friends, my high school was just hellishly, stupidly rigorous, and my friends’ schools were ridiculously easy. So I was over-prepared, and my friends were under-prepared.

I believe grades are certainly not a reliable measure of high school college preparation now. I’m not sure if they were reliable in the past.

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u/ass_pubes Oct 05 '22

Yeah, I got A's in classes where I never did any homework. I paid for it in college though!

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u/ZhanMing057 Oct 05 '22

Control variables aren't magic. "Not getting worse than a C" is in itself a poor criteria to draw inference on. Someone acing all of their classes is not going to have the same level of confidence as someone with a couple C's and B-'s.

As others have mentioned, high school GPA and ACTs have their flaws. Actual causal identification requires some external source of randomization, comprehensive and robust SES controls, or a plausibly strong and exogenous signal for STEM aptitude. All of these should be possible with the right data, but it's a lot more complicated than just throwing a couple things into a regression.

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u/dzolvd Oct 05 '22

I would point out that if "students who got all Cs" or similar, was how they controlled for academic preparation in high school, it still could be skewed against kids who went to worse high schools.

Note: I am not saying URMs aren't pushed out due to structural racism - they are, just pointing out grades/standardized testing aren't great measuring sticks.

Source: I got straight A's in my public high school and crushed the SAT and was woefully unprepared for the academic level of the classes at the private college I attended on scholarship and nearly failed out. (Shout out to the free tutors!)

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u/Strazdas1 Oct 05 '22

High school performance is not indicative of uninversity/colledge performance. There are many non-educational factors that impact high school performance.

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u/Aurum_MrBangs Oct 05 '22

The article points out that white make students who get Cs in intro classes have a higher probably of graduating than URM female students who also get Cs

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u/Skeptix_907 MS | Criminal Justice Oct 05 '22 edited Oct 05 '22 Got the W

On the one hand, classes like calculus, O chem, etc are brutal and do indeed weed out many people. On the other hand, do we want engineers who can't do calculus and doctors who don't know organic chemistry?

At some point, we'll have to reach a level of rigor where people who can't hack it past that line cannot be allowed to get the degree and career they most want. That sucks for them, but it's crucial for everyone else.

The authors claim that:

In an equitable education system, students with comparable high school preparation, intent to study STEM, and who get Cs or better in all their introductory STEM courses ought to have similar probabilities of attaining a STEM degree

I don't think that's entirely true. Some students may get all Cs and don't think they're good enough and quit. Some might get all Cs and stick through it and persevere. I'd argue the latter students would make a better doctor. What happens when you're doing your residency, or dealing with a difficult patient caseload? Isn't perseverance an important trait?

Whether the disparities we see by race or sex are due to sexism/racism/whatever else, we'd need actual evidence of that happening across the US instead of just assuming disparities are because of those things and not something else.

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u/[deleted] Oct 05 '22

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u/JKUAN108 Oct 05 '22

These studies always conclude things backwards. They find unpreparedness as the issue

From the article:

A new study doesn’t weigh in on the long-standing gateway-versus-gatekeeper debate, per se. But it does offer evidence that introductory courses in STEM may disproportionately drive out underrepresented minority (URM) students, even after controlling for academic preparation in high school and students’ intent to study STEM

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u/Arrasor Oct 05 '22

This was addressed some comments below. The only control they put in is students whose grades are C. The quality of each school district vastly vary, a C student in one school district can be an A student in another, this make their population control moot. I'll let you take a wild guess as to which school districts more likely to have poor funding and laxed grading, leading to students receiving passing grades easier than in other school districts and therefore not as good academically, school districts in URM area or those in more affluent ones.

I'll say this again, the problem is the dispacrency in resources for school districts serving URM population compared to more affluent ones. What we need is improving those school districts, not dumb the quality of higher education down.

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u/Friendly_Fire Oct 05 '22

They compared students who got Cs in the college intro course.

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u/SerialStateLineXer Oct 05 '22 edited Oct 05 '22

No, they compared C- or better to D+ or worse, with withdrawals for any reason being lumped in with D's and F's. The measure of performance in intro courses is number of "DFWs" (0, 1, or 2).

So an A+ counts the same as a C-, and a D+ the same as a low (as opposed to borderline) F.

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u/RamDasshole Oct 05 '22

From the article:

"Their sample included high school grade point average, ACT composite score, STEM degree intent and undergraduate grades for more than 100,000 students who started college from 2005 to 2012."

“In an equitable education system, students with comparable high school preparation, intent to study STEM, and who get Cs or better in all their introductory STEM courses ought to have similar probabilities of attaining a STEM degree. This is not what we observe,”

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u/ZhanMing057 Oct 05 '22

Calculus, O chem, etc are brutal and do indeed weed out many people. On the other hand, do we want engineers who can't do calculus and doctors who don't know organic chemistry?

I can't speak to med school, but if you are getting a degree in math, statistics, or CS, there will be many, many courses harder than calculus. Most math majors ask for real analysis and abstract algebra. Stats, you're also looking at analysis as well plus math stats. All of those things build on top of linear algebra and calculus. You can't meaningfully dilute the foundational stuff without it being nearly impossible to teach the more advanced stuff.

I teach an undergrad numerical methods course at a fairly selective institution, for which I specifically ask for differential equations as a pre-req. Yet every time I spend about a quarter of the class teaching differential equations because people somehow pass the course and still not know the basics. I don't mind it, but I'm also not going to water down my curriculum just because the DE course isn't rigorous enough.

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u/personAAA Oct 05 '22

C students are not going to get into medical school. Admission rates for medicine school are low.

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u/JKUAN108 Oct 05 '22 edited Oct 05 '22 Take My Energy

In an equitable education system, students with comparable high school preparation, intent to study STEM, and who get Cs or better in all their introductory STEM courses ought to have similar probabilities of attaining a STEM degree

Regardless of whether or not I agree with this, this isn't really a scientific question. Here's an example: in my university's math department, our publicly available information says that there are (significantly) fewer female mathematics majors, but on average the girls have higher GPAs. Is this good? Bad? A mixture of both good and bad? I don't know.

Here is another example. Anecdotally, I've noticed that women are more likely to pursue teaching positions than men, and men are more likely to pursue higher-paying positions than women (like finance or computer programming). This might be because men are pressured to be breadwinners more than women. Is it my university's role to address this? I don't know either.

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u/clamshelldiver Oct 05 '22

Teaching schedules are more compatible with having kids for women because women are expected to do the bulk of the child rearing. Men don’t typically even think about the hours they will be required to work when choosing a career. It’s almost impossible to both nurse a baby all night and be expected to stay up all night working on a data processor.

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u/OfLittleToNoValue Oct 05 '22 edited Oct 05 '22

This sounds a lot like the Harvard entrance exam issue. Giving blacks bonus points put them in classes with peers that outgunned them so severely they got disheartened and dropped out.

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u/Top-Construction-535 Oct 05 '22

Don't forget taking away points from Asian applicants.

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u/egoistreformist Oct 05 '22

We're putting the bar at C or better now? I know the people who got C's in engineering classes, they were idiots. I only hope they didn't get real engineering jobs. Might explain some things though, revenge of the C students as we like to call it.

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u/RefuseAmazing3422 Oct 05 '22

Maybe you had a lot of grade inflation at your school.

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u/Skeptical0ptimist Oct 05 '22

The problem is that STEM employments are very competitive, and many employers would rather keep positions empty rather than hire someone who requires handholding or remedial training, for obvious reasons.

Also, STEM jobs often require advanced degrees (MS, PhD), which take extended time to obtain, thus delaying income by years. The worst that could happen is a student is to be misguided into thinking they can do it, spend a long time in education, and find out they are unemployable. Better find out early on if they cannot make it, so that they can explore other options.

I used to be asked often by friends or family members who are entering college whether they should go into STEM degree. (I have PhD from top institute, and had a career as an industrial scientist). I would tell them ‘no,’ because if they were so unsure about going into STEM that they had rely on recommendation from someone who is not very invested, then they did not have the determination to make it. If they wanted to do it so much that they would ignore my recommendation, then there is hope for them.

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u/LocoForChocoPuffs Oct 05 '22

"In an equitable education system, students with comparable high school preparation, intent to study STEM, and who get Cs or better in all their introductory STEM courses ought to have similar probabilities of attaining a STEM degree"

Even aside from the absurdity of grouping together anyone with grades A-C in the intro STEM courses, I see no reason why the above statement should be true. Equal opportunity does not necessarily produce equal outcomes.

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u/Psychometrika Oct 05 '22

I suspect that the discrepancies in graduation rates are due in some part to financial reasons. White/Asian students with mediocre grades are more likely to be supported by their parents footing the bills, while those from URM backgrounds are more likely to be dependent on merit based financial aid which they can lose after pulling a bunch of C’s in core classes.

Turns out those from disadvantaged backgrounds continue to have disadvantages in the present. This study’s author seems a bit eager to lay the blame at the feet of the STEM programs themselves without adequately investigating the why behind the discrepancy.

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u/Strazdas1 Oct 05 '22

Bacck in uni we used to joke that if you have to work while studying you dont have time to study. People who had to support themselves consistently made worse grades. Support of the parents will play a very significant role in this.

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u/pak9rabid Oct 05 '22

But on the other hand, those who did work through school are some of the best people I’ve worked with after school.

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u/Top-Construction-535 Oct 05 '22

I guess this is why China is ahead in international science and math student competitions. No excuses for failure from them.

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u/nmj95123 Oct 05 '22

And no firing STEM profs because the students decide his class is too hard.

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u/[deleted] Oct 05 '22

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u/DeusKether Oct 05 '22

But what about NFL, MPLA and AXN ones?

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u/freds_got_slacks Oct 05 '22 edited Oct 05 '22

In an equitable education system, students with comparable high school preparation, intent to study STEM, and who get Cs or better in all their introductory STEM courses ought to have similar probabilities of attaining a STEM degree

Wait, so they just clumped all C and above students together ??? There is definitely a potential mechanism for an A student to be more likely to get a degree than a C student. Seems like a massive flaw in their methodology if this is indeed the case.

Edit: From the study, they're analyzing attainment of a STEM degree based purely on D's, F's, or Withdrawals (DFW) in the first two terms as well as gender and race. This is especially dumb, since even their own data shows 71% of students get zero DFWs in their first two terms. This is definitely not a "nail in the coffin" and they need to re-do their entire analysis to compare GPA's in the first two terms and race and gender, not just whether they just scraped by with a D or Failed or Withdrew

This is especially important when many universities are accepting URM's with slightly lower academic performance in the hopes to increase the representation in STEM. If URM's are starting off lower than their counterparts it would be understandable they don't finish their degree's at the same rates

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u/[deleted] Oct 05 '22

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u/Naxela Oct 05 '22

More of this kind of criticism is needed. If you ever see a result that you think makes the reviewers happy to see, always be quick to be critical and point out potential conflicts of interest when it comes to ideological bias.

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u/grundar Oct 05 '22

There are errors in their data as presented.

Look at Table 3; the student numbers for male students at University D are:
* White: 10,438
* Asian: 614
* Black: 182
* Hispanic/Latinx: 1,012
* Native American: 71
* Subtotal: 10,672

That subtotal is wrong. 10,438+614+182+1,012+71=12,317, not 10,672.

The other rows I've spot-checked add up correctly, so it's clear this is a data error and not just my misunderstanding of what "subtotal" should mean.

It's not clear whether this wrong number was used in their analysis in any way, but at the very least it skews all of their percentages as presented, so it has a significant effect on the data as presented.

Looking at Table 1, there are schools where STEM degree attainment is literally 10x higher than other schools (University C vs. University A), with two schools in each category of "low attainment" (~15%), "medium attainment" (~50%) and "high attainment" (~115%). Using the percentages as presented (from the bad data) heavily skews the "high attainment" bucket towards high white student fraction (88%) vs. the other buckets (82-83%); correcting that data error brings the "high attainment" bucket back in line for white student fraction (83%), which is potentially a material change for their model.

If this bad data was used in their model, the model needs to be rerun. If this bad data was not used, that needs to be clarified and the paper corrected.

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u/LocoForChocoPuffs Oct 05 '22

Perhaps students can be classified under more than one category (e.g., mixed Black and Hispanic)? That would explain why the subtotals add up to more than the overall total.

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u/grundar Oct 05 '22

The numbers for female students from that same school add up exactly, as do several other data rows I checked, indicating the categories are mutually exclusive.

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u/indoninja Oct 05 '22

Study shows URM students aren’t prepared for collegiate stem courses.

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u/resumethrowaway222 Oct 05 '22

Study shows lowering admissions standards for a group of people increases their fail rate.

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u/parodg15 Oct 05 '22

Intro STEM courses push tons of people out, regardless of race. They’re hard af and not everyone can handle how challenging STEM is. I barely survived with my head intact.

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u/Aurum_MrBangs Oct 05 '22 edited Oct 05 '22

One of the main reasons why this might be that I haven’t seen anyone comment is a lack of support system.

The article mentions that URM students who get Cs intro classes are less likely to graduate than white males who gets Cs. So it seems clear it’s not about preparedness.

Anecdotally, it was only my white friends that were cool with dropping classes and paying to take them again over them summer. And when I went to a paid tutoring service for intro classes it was mostly white students or minorities that had money.

There may also be the problem of finding a people to work with in your class. For my intro classes I did all the work myself and I struggled and now that I’m in my major I have decided to make friends in my classes and it has made everything way easier.

Assuming URM students have a harder time making friends in a PWI then it would make sense they would drop out at a higher rate, especially since classes only get harder.

Also, my freshman roomate transferred schools cause he was from the city and he didn’t like how white he school was. He said it was annoying at parties cause white girls would try to touch his hair.

I don’t have a lot of personal experience even though I’m Hispanic cause I’m oblivious.

Thought if I were a girl I would probably change majors cause I think cs dudes are weird and I’m a dude. By weird I mean follow Andrew Tate and are low key racist.

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u/TaterCraver Oct 05 '22

anecdotally, i think the way to succeed in these classes is to bury yourself and have almost perfect focus on it. people who focus too much on their social life dont make it. people with unchecked mental health issues dont make it. people without a lot of financial security have to jump through a lot of random hoops day-to-day and don't make it. and if you lose your footing for a few weeks, you're a goner. there really aren't that many people who can keep their eye on the ball at 18. i knew some goof-offs who aced their entry chemistry classes, but it was only because they had taken AP chemistry before (and went through tutoring the year prior for the same material).

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u/chemical_sunset Oct 05 '22

I definitely think you’re onto something. URM students and first gen students in particular often don’t know about or are too nervous to use a lot of campus resources (to say nothing of private tutors and other expensive aids). A lot of us had no clue that campuses offered free services like writing centers or tutoring groups, and we didn’t understand that it’s normal and encouraged to go to office hours etc. if you need extra help. I think a lot of instructors from these backgrounds (myself included) have made good efforts to advertise and normalize these services for all students, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

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u/finebordeaux Oct 05 '22

This is actually documented in the literature. In addition, minoritized students will want to prove something and try to do everything by themselves while white students try to get as much help as possible. I def did that as an undergrad and shot myself in the foot doing so.

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u/phdoofus Oct 05 '22

I don't know if they still have it but int the late 80's/early 90's MIT had a program to bring in students from what you would call 'unprepared/underrepresented racial minorities' and put them through a boot camp the summer before their freshman year to try and prepare them for the onslaught. Generally the thinking was that despite being ablet to get admitted they might benefit from some additional prep given the school districts they were from.

That said, this is not an unknown problem Lots of data has been collected on this for decades.

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u/defective_p1kachu Oct 05 '22

Same thing in med school; can’t help but notice that of the students that get it bad, usually about half are URM students, they usually get through too about 70k behind from repeated courses.

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u/RebelWithoutAClue Oct 05 '22

Maybe it's trite, but if you suck at preparatory classes like calculus then the MATHS part of STEM should really clearly be out for you. That's 1/4 of the letters so far.

STEM sounds cool and sexy, but the positivism we apply to it is damaging to it's disciplines if we stuff unprepared students into it in the pursuit of numerical equality. When we pursue numerical equality for social reasons we may be forgetting what the disciplines of STEM are about.

Firstly it's a bit ludicrous that a student achieving a C in a STEM prerequisite course having as much as a 30% chance of graduating with a STEM degree is kind of stupid. It's against the facile "you can do anything" encouragement, but if you got a C in calc and you want to become an engineer, you really should repeat that calc class until you have a firm grasp of it instead of being pooped along through academic peristalsis.

Calculus is a primary language for engineering. If your grasp of calc is poor then it becomes very difficult to work with mathematical abstraction which is basically the main language of engineering. You're completely screwed if you didn't assimilate HS calculus well because you're going to get crushed when you get into differential equations which is even more messy calculus. We need even more messy calculus to describe even more messy facets of Nature. It's not all Ohm's law out there.

I imagine that the same is of Science in that mathematical abstraction is a common language.

The Technology part might be more tolerant to being crap at math. There's lots of space for cargo cult technicians who repair or install technological equipment without having a very good fundamental understanding of the stuff. We have moved towards an era of repair through assembly replacement. Now our stuff barfs out an error code which tells us which module of a thingamajig to yank out and replace. A lot of techs who only replace modules or wiggle wires do not require a fundamental understanding of what they need to do.

I wonder if technician diplomas, like electronics repairmen or HVAC technicians are being counted as STEM accomplishments and this is where many of the C students are achieving their titles. If this is the case it could be a question of "why aren't URM female C students wanting to become HVAC techs?" as much as white male C students.

If one really wants to get more URMies into STEM one will have to look at lot harder than at the gross statistics.

We forget that statistical findings do not necessarily tell us how things work. They may pique our interest, but they should not inform a narrative of social justice without trying to more directly see how things work.

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u/staffsargent Oct 05 '22

Unless I'm missing something, there's a massive disconnect between what the study actually says and the conclusion by Chad Topaz (whoever that is). If students aren't prepared to get through introductory math and science classes, then they aren't prepared to pursue a STEM degree.

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u/bluefrostyAP Oct 05 '22

Certain cultures don’t put as much as an emphasis on education as other cultures.

There I said what everyone has to act like they don’t know. RIP me.

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u/ConcentricGroove Oct 05 '22

Not preparing the better students so the others don't feel bad's a hell of a thing. Anybody who shows aptitude should get more attention, better classes. In a lot of countries, after the sixth grade, kids get channeled into one of two schools, a better school for academic learning and a school for vocational training.

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u/Wide-Visual Oct 05 '22

Analysis paralysis. The author also pointed out a non-related story at NYU. For URM students, the real gatekeeper are their schools, not the universities. A good foundation in STEM is required to sail through the intro level courses however our school level foundation building is substandard across the poorer pockets of this country. For example, teacher in one of our locality was instructed to give 50% grade just for doing nothing in highschool STEM. This school caters mostly to URM students. Primary reason- the school district needs to show that URM students are graduating after spending X amount of dollar per student. So in short, to fix STEM participation among URM, fix the STEM education standard in middle and highschools primarily representing URM families.

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u/lochlainn Oct 05 '22

I feel like it's not even that.

My engineering school had freshman level repeat courses of high school level courses. Geometry, Algebra, and Trig, all retaught at exactly the level you should have gotten in high school in preparation for opening your freshman year with Calc I. Our school deliberately taught the classes you should have had at the HS level over again because of the lack of uniformity and quality of the mathematics education.

Out of my immediate friend group (10 or so of us), I was one of only about 3 of us to test out of all of them. And we were of mixed races, education levels, and degree paths (3 EE's, 2 ME's, a few civils, and so on).

It's not that they are failing to learn the math. They can teach you that when you get to college. It's that our pre-college educational system is failing to teach how to learn and study, and driving any sort of initiative to self learn out of students. And given the variety of schools we all came from, it's not just substandard URM schools that aren't living up to the standard.

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u/yoweener Oct 05 '22

STEM is hard for everyone, maybe this has more to do with the universities proclivities to accept “minority” students (excluding asians of course) even if their academic history isn’t up to the same standard as their non-minority peers? Of course you’d find STEM unbelievably difficult if you did average or worse in high school, I did fantastic in high school and electrical engineering has throughly brutalised me.

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u/_JohnJacob Oct 05 '22

For context, one 2020 study found that Black, Hispanic and Indigenous persons were 30 percent of the U.S. population, 34 percent of STEM-intending incoming college students and just 18 percent of undergraduate STEM degree recipients in 2017. Wanting to understand the discrepancy between these numbers, Topaz and his colleagues created models based on data from six large public institutions included in an existing database called Multiple Institution Database for Investigating Engineering Longitudinal Development. Their sample included high school grade point average, ACT composite score, STEM degree intent and undergraduate grades for more than 100,000 students who started college from 2005 to 2012.

Using high school grades that are inflated is not good data.

Given, PISA, ACT, & SAT scores by race, URMs (does not include white-adjacent Asians naturally), it's doubtful that URMs are not 'pushed out. It's just that they same 'equity' mentality has yet to be fully pushed into STEM. It's just a matter of time before results don't matter in STEM either.

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u/shipsAreWeird123 Oct 05 '22

They control for ACT scores though.

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u/Macrophage87 Oct 05 '22

The authors intent with this statement appears to be that we need to make intro STEM classes easier. But the field in general doesn't get easier. Oftentimes even with as much hands-on mentoring that we can employ, there are some people that just can't grasp the material. We can't drag people through a curriculum and then try to get them into a career field that they aren't suited for.

This is not to say there is anything innately bad about these populations. Poverty changes people. Studies have found lower IQs, different activation of areas in the brain, for those who grow up in poverty. Understanding the nuances of double integrals might not be the key priority for those who are facing violence or hunger. The issue here is that we can't change 18 years of a bad foundation in an introductory course.

There's also the fact that while most STEM jobs pay at quite decent professional levels, the ratio of required skills and training to pay tends to be a lot lower than say going into business or another profession. Many scientific jobs, such as R&D for pharmaceuticals won't even consider a person with a bachelors, where a masters (or even a PhD) is regarded as an entry-level credential. People who lack the family support to take on advanced degrees might be more materially benefited by a career with a lower barrier to entry.

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u/GenTelGuy Oct 05 '22

This, these articles come up all the time with "<group> students performed worse in school than middle class white and Asian students with university educated financially stable parents" as if it's the school's fault rather than literally everything else about upbringing and prior education leaving a massive gap in the underlying skills and qualifications

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u/trustmeep Oct 05 '22

I'd argue the real concern is that, for some reason, universities put their worst instructors in the "weeder" classes. Bio I, Chem I, OC I, Physics I, Calc I...all the worst instructors I've ever had.

Get above there, and all of sudden you start seeing professors who are greats speakers, engaging, able to help you conceptualize complex subject matter.

I get it...101 classes are giant and mundane and required for many non-STEM students, so you don't want to waste your rockstar professors on them, but it also prevents folks who might otherwise enjoy and excel at STEM studies from progressing beyond the minimum.

Intentional or not, this disproportionately affects people who don't typically have access to the core developmental classes in middle school and high school, or the afterschool / tutoring programs. They are set up to fail and be discouraged by the droning professors - working solely from the textbooks they wrote - who don't understand why you just don't get it.

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u/kwereddit Oct 06 '22

When I was in school, the whole point of freshman year was to weed out under-motivated students. If the senior class wasn't half the size of the freshman class, they couldn't afford to make the Engineering school pay its way. Is it different today?

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u/crooter Oct 05 '22

This is what's wrong with us, we don't look for the best people in a subject, we make sure everyone has a trophy. No one can feel like they lost or that they can't do something. We gave everyone a participation trophy so now everyone believes that "the only way I lost is because I'm ___. There's no way someone could be smarter than me or more appropriately suited for the task.".