‘Weed-Out’ Courses Disproportionately Weed Out Minority Students | AIChE

‘Weed-Out’ Courses Disproportionately Weed Out Minority Students


Women, Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous undergraduates earn a disproportionately small number of degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Now, new research finds that part of the reason may lie with the very first STEM classes students take in college.

These introductory classes, sometimes seen as “weed-out” courses because of their difficulty, are a stumbling block to minority and female students, the new study finds. Doing poorly in even one of these classes disproportionately affects these vulnerable students. For example, a white man who intends to get a STEM degree who gets a D, F, or withdraws from one of these classes still has a 33% chance of graduating with that degree in STEM. An academically equivalent Black woman with a single D, F, or withdrawal has only a 15% chance.

“Even when our students are successful in their intro courses, we have great disparities in graduation rates,” says study leader Nate Brown, a mathematician at Pennsylvania State Univ. “And if they are not successful in even one class, that has an exacerbating effect on these inequities.”

As of 2018, women earned 58% of bachelor’s degrees in the U.S., but only 36% of all STEM degrees, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. According to the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic individuals made up 34% of STEM-intending incoming college students in 2018, but only 18% of undergraduate STEM...

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