Minority students are currently underrepresented in science, technology engineering and math (STEM) majors, and ultimately, in STEM career tracks in the United States. While the federal government and many independent organizations have invested in programs to boost diversity in STEM fields, the effects of such programs have not been rigorously studied.
In a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, Sarah R. Cohodes from Columbia University, Helen Ho from the Harvard Kennedy School, and Silvia C. Robles from Mathematica found positive impacts on college enrollment, completion, and STEM degree attainment for minority high school student who attended a STEM summer program.
The researchers used a randomized control trial to examine the effects of a program offered in three different formats—six weeks in-person, one week in-person, or six months online. They found that students in all three programs were more likely to enroll and graduate from a four-year college, particularly elite institutions like the one offering the summer program.
Additionally, STEM major attainment among participating students was as much as 33 percent higher than for similar students who did not attend the programs. By shifting to STEM fields, students increased their potential earnings by 2 to 6 percent, the researchers estimate.
The findings indicate that programs targeted to high school students can provide an important mechanism for increasing diversity in college classrooms and career paths, and that programs focusing only on current college students miss a critical opportunity to influence students before they begin their studies.