STEM Central

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STEPS at CSUN: Increasing Retention of Engineering and Physical Science Majors

Institutional changes to improving success in lower-division math are working

STEPS at CSUN seeks to increase the retention rate of first-time freshman in engineering, math, and physical science (STEM) majors from ~55% to 65%. About 40% of STEM first-time freshmen start in College Algebra because they do not take or do not pass the Mathematics Placement Test (MPT). This lengthens time to graduation, which contributes to dissatisfaction with major. STEPS at CSUN has made substantial changes to the administration of the MPT. Initial data show pass rates have increased by >10%. STEPS at CSUN also funded the development of supplemental labs for some lower-division math classes. These labs are mandatory for at-risk students who have low scores on the MPT, low grades in the prerequisite course, or who failed the class the first time. Students who successfully completed the Calculus I labs has a 72% pass rate compared to a 58% pass rate prior to implementation of the labs. A final retention strategy is aimed at students in the early stages of their majors. At CSUN the greatest loss of STEM majors occurs between sophomore-level and junior-level coursework because course difficulty increases and aspirations to potential careers weaken. The Summer Interdisciplinary Team Experience (SITE) is an intensive 3-week-long summer program that engages small teams of students from diverse STEM majors in faculty-mentored, team-based problem solving. This experience simulates professional work and creates strong bonds between students and between students and faculty mentors. The first two cohorts of students who have participated in SITE indicate that this experience has positively impacted their motivation to complete their STEM degree.

Lead Author

  • Vicki Pedone

Institution Information

  • Name: California State University - Northridge
  • State: CA

Poster Information

  • ID: PS-002
  • Disciplinary Focus: All STEM
  • Award Number: 0969627
  • Project Year 3