STEM degrees

Hands-on science courses could boost STEM retention, grad rates

A study from the University of Texas at Austin reveals participating in a STEM program were more likely to graduate and earn STEM degrees

College students who are enrolled in engaging science courses that allow them to conduct scientific research early on are more likely to graduate and earn STEM degrees, according to a new study.

The study analyzes how participating in course-based undergraduate research experiences affects students’ outcomes.

Across all demographic groups, students who participated in a program called the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) were more likely to graduate college and to earn degrees in STEM disciplines at The University of Texas at Austin, according to the study, which was published in CBE-Life Sciences Education.

The decade-old FRI in UT Austin’s College of Natural Sciences puts first- and second-year undergraduate students in faculty-led labs, a model that is unconventional at research universities.

The newly published research finds that FRI increases a student’s likelihood of graduating with an undergraduate degree from 66 to 83 percent, and increases a graduate’s likelihood of earning a STEM degree from 71 to 94 percent.

This means that for every 10 students who enter the College of Natural Sciences and participate in FRI, two will graduate who were likely otherwise to drop out or take longer than six years to get an undergraduate degree, and three more will wind up with STEM degrees, as opposed to changing majors.

Next page: The problem with declining STEM degrees

Laura Ascione