Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Attrition Rates among College Students by Major

Fully 28 percent of college students choose to major in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) field, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In an analysis of 2003-04 beginning bachelor's degree students, the NCES finds more students opting for a STEM field than business (26 percent), social sciences (21 percent), humanities (13 percent), or education (13 percent).

Besides math and engineering, STEM fields include biology and life sciences, physical sciences, and computer and information sciences. Many students who choose a STEM field ultimately abandon it—48 percent of 2003-04 beginning bachelor's degree students eventually switched to a non-STEM major or dropped out of school entirely. The STEM attrition rate ranges from a low of 38 percent for those majoring in math to a high of 59 percent for those majoring in computer/information sciences.

While those attrition rates are high enough to raise eyebrows, the analysis shows STEM rates are no higher than rates in non-STEM fields. Among students majoring in education, for example, 62 percent switched majors or dropped out of school. The attrition rate was 45 percent for social science majors, 50 percent for business majors, and 56 percent for those majoring in the humanities.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, STEM Attrition: College Students' Paths Into and Out of STEM Fields

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