Reducing achievement gaps in undergraduate general chemistry could lift underrepresented students into a ‘hyperpersistent zone’
Scientists report that undergraduate students from underrepresented groups who score below a C- in general chemistry are less likely to persist in STEM classes than their classmates with similar grades, but they are much more likely than their peers to persist if they earn a C+ or better. The researchers suggest that improving the performance of all students could disproportionately raise the retention rate of underrepresented students in STEM majors, helping to achieve equity in STEM education. Previous studies have found that underrepresented minorities and women do worse in STEM classes and are less likely to continue with STEM majors than peers from better represented groups, even when they have similar educational backgrounds. Because general chemistry is a first-year requirement for many STEM majors, the authors of this study proposed that poor performance in the course could be correlated with the rate at which underrepresented students who are interested in STEM drop out of STEM majors. To investigate their hypothesis, Rebecca Harris and colleagues analyzed the grade data for 25,768 students who took general chemistry at the University of Washington between 2001 and 2016. They found that while women, underrepresented minorities, and students of low socio-economic status are more likely to underperform and drop out of general chemistry, they are more likely than their peers to persist if they scored above a C. The authors note that their data confirms that these groups perform worse than their classmates with similar academic preparation and call for more investigation as to why undergraduate STEM courses have an outsized negative impact on these students.