Performance gaps in science are well documented, and an examination of underlying mechanisms that lead to underperformance and attrition of women and underrepresented minorities (URM) may offer highly targeted means to promote such students. Determining factors that influence academic performance may provide a basis for improved pedagogy and policy development at the university level. We examined the impact of class size on students in 17 biology courses at four universities. Although the female students underperformed on high-stakes exams compared with the men as class size increased, the women received higher scores than the men on nonexam assessments. The URM students underperformed across grade measures compared with the majority students regardless of class size, suggesting that other characteristics of the education environment affect learning. Student enrollment is expected to increase precipitously in the next decade, underscoring the need to prioritize individual student potential rather than yield to budget constraints when considering equitable pedagogy and caps on classroom sizes.
I’ll get right to the point, because I know you don’t have much time. A new semester is looming, and you are overwhelmed. It could be because you’re early in your teaching career and still feeling your way. Or it could be related to the impossible amount of work you are facing, as teaching loads grow ever heavier. But some of it arises from a common problem that you can help to alleviate yourself: You are overpreparing for class.
With shifts in demographics, research technology innovations, changes in the nature of work and increased employer demand for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) expertise, graduate STEM education in the U.S. is ripe for strategic change. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently released a report that proposes a graduate STEM education system that better equips students of all backgrounds to meet the requirements of all types of occupations. The report outlines the characteristics of an ideal education system, core competencies for students, and recommended changes to make the system more student-centric and adaptive to current workforce needs.
Unlike natural ecosystems, institutions are built. And the decisions that are made in our institutions create the culture in which we work and study. In particular, choices that offset bias will encourage participation and improve performance – not only for women and underrepresented minorities, but for everyone. For example, increased workforce diversity leads to increased innovation. Despite this, nearly two-thirds of the professionals working in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) in the US are white or asian males, a number which does not reflect either the population at large or those with science degrees.
“You will never meet a dean or chancellor who isn’t committed to diversity and inclusion”, says Rickey Hall, Vice President for Minority Affairs and Diversity at the University of Washington (UW). “The rhetoric is there, because it is the right thing to say, but it doesn’t reflect in behavior and in resources.”
The Wisconsin HOPE Lab at UW-Madison, which made headlines with research showing many college students struggle to find enough to eat and a place to live, has closed with the expiration of its funding.
Other UW-Madison researchers are engaged in research focusing on marginalized students, however. And HOPE Lab founder Sara Goldrick-Rab is launching a new research center at Temple University in Philadelphia that is an evolution of the Wisconsin lab.
“CCWT wants to give a voice to marginalized students who often serve as research subjects, but do not actively participate in the college-to-work debate. For instance, a current study is looking at how, or how not, Latinx college students benefit from student services and resources at their schools,” said Janet Kelly, WCER director of communications.