'Fun' Becomes 'Hard'

The New York Times examines why the university-level STEM attrition rate is on the rise.

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Nothing is new here. In 1960

Nothing is new here. In 1960 when I entered Cornell to study chemistry (which I did successfully through a Ph.D.) they told us "look to the right of you, look to the left of you, one of you won't be here next year". I guess students now want guaranteed success. Doing all the hard work was even better fun when I found out that I would be in the upper 5% of income for the rest of my life and enjoy an affluent retirement from a STEM curriculum.

The question that was not

The question that was not addressed here is, is this attrition a problem? In other words, is there a shortage of candidates for jobs in the end? Medical schools turn away applicants all the time. What is the outlook for scientific and engineering jobs and do we have a shortage of skilled scientists and engineers?

It is not just about jobs.

It is not just about jobs. The fact that many STEM jobs in the US go to foreign nationals indicates that we are not training enough US students. Even if that were not true, we should still be trying to encourage STEM training among all students so they can bring that knowledge to whatever field they eventually enter. I know far too many professors of freshman STEM courses who view their role as a gatekeeper to keep out unqualified students. That is exactly the wrong attitude. We need to keep the curriculum rigorous but encourage and enable students to succeed. Whether they get an advanced degree in the field or not, they should have a better understanding of how things work.

Yes, nothing new. "Every

Yes, nothing new. "Every year nearly half a million student leave high school planning to concentrate in science or engineering in college. And every year only 200,000 students, or 40 percent of the science-oriented hight school graduates, complete one of those majors." This was written in 1991 by John S. Rigden and Sheila Tobias, "Tune in, turn off, drop out".

Would somebody state the

Would somebody state the obvious? Hard science requires more work, concentration and dedication and possibly, though ill-defined, brainpower compared to many non-science disciplines. Introductory science courses, though frequently large, often feature the best and most interesting professors. The bottom line is that science and math are difficult but more rewarding in the end if a student can stick with it. In our efforts to increase enrollment and retention, we must be careful to not "dumb down" these courses for those contemplating a career in these fields. Premed students have often asked why they need to take physics. There is only a kernel of truth in the irreverant answer frequently given, "to keep you out of medical school."

While I agree that STEM

While I agree that STEM course content must remain rigorous, I think instructor attitude has a measureable negative impact in the training of U.S. engineers and scientists. I always think of the college-level athletic coaches who want/need to get the best out of his/her student athlete to ensure their own success. STEM instructors that want to guide, teach and train their students to become outstanding scientists approach the problem from a different perspective than those who believe their role is to "weed out" the 50 percent that can't fit into the system. The kids that are entering these majors as freshmen are typically ones that demonstrated strong work ethics and STEM ability in high school. No one enters into a STEM major thinking it's going to be easy ride.