Board 139: Factors Affecting Enrollment, Retention, and Attrition of STEM Undergraduates at a Minority Serving Institution Conference

Müller, CC, Kayyali, M, Elzomor, M. (2023). Board 139: Factors Affecting Enrollment, Retention, and Attrition of STEM Undergraduates at a Minority Serving Institution .

cited authors

  • Müller, CC; Kayyali, M; Elzomor, M


  • Higher education institutions experience a paramount problem of enrollment, retention, and attrition, which is particularly acute within the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. Based on the National Center for Education Statistics, 48 percent of bachelor's degree students who began STEM programs between 2003 and 2009 had left them by spring 2009, 28 percent switched to a non-STEM major, and 20 percent left the program and exited the educational institution without earning a degree. That said, nearly half of STEM students change majors to a non-STEM program, perform deficiently compared to their peers in other programs, or leave the educational institution before completing their degree and/or not earning academic credentials. Students' attrition occurs most frequently in the first and second year of their academic programs; in fact, more than 60 percent of dropouts occur in these years. These rates are especially troubling for undergraduate STEM students from historically marginalized communities. Several factors play a significant role in STEM undergraduate students' attrition, such as poor-quality teaching and advising, curriculum difficulty, lack of belonging, lack of interaction between students and faculty, financial difficulties, and lack of hands-on project activities. The goals of this paper are to (1) identify the main factors that hinder undergraduate STEM students' interest, success, and perseverance, particularly those from marginalized communities, which contribute to the change in their career path or them dropping out before earning their degree; and (2) identify the actions that can be taken by educational institutions to increase undergraduate STEM student's enrollment and retention while decreasing attrition. To achieve these objectives, this study: (1) identified the main factors contributing to these problems of utmost importance to academia from previous literature; (2) collected and analyzed enrollment and retention data from Florida International University (FIU), one of the largest minority serving institutions in the United States; and (3) identified strategies and best practices aimed at addressing these paramount difficulties within undergraduate education through literature review. The data collected regarding retention rates of STEM and Engineering and Computing students showed that approximately (a) 17 percent of students that started their programs between 2008 and 2014 were not retained after their first year, while 8 percent of students that started their programs on the following years were not retained after their first year; (b) 28 and 15 percent, respectively, after their second year; (c) 35 and 21 percent after their third year; (d) 40 and 22 percent after their fourth year; and (e) 41 and 22 percent after their fifth year. This research proposes several strategies and best practices including orientation programs, early academic advising, peer-to-peer mentoring and tutoring, math review sessions/courses, early warning systems to identify potential switch-outs or dropouts, equitable financial aid mechanisms, and creation of more hands-on project activities.

publication date

  • June 25, 2023