Expanding Participation in Technical Fields: An Evaluation of the Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) Program
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has noted, “Economic projections point to a need for approximately 1 million more STEM professionals than the U.S. will produce at the current rate over the next decade if the country is to retain its historical preeminence in science and technology.” One effort to increase the numbers of students retained in STEM degree programs is the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) program. The S-STEM program awards grants to a geographically diverse set of institutions of higher education that then provide scholarships and academic supports for academically talented students, in science and engineering disciplines, with demonstrated financial need. The S-STEM program was established in 2004 by NSF in accordance with the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-277) as modified by P.L. 106-313 and P.L.108-447. The Act reflects the national need to increase the number of U.S. scientists and engineers.
This paper presents results from an evaluation of S-STEM which investigated project implementation and the educational and career outcomes of S-STEM scholarship recipients. The evaluation used a mixed-methods design that consisted of data collection via web surveys and site visits (involving interviews and focus groups), and data from extant sources. Surveys were administered to S-STEM principal investigators (PIs) and S-STEM scholarship recipients. Descriptive analyses investigated project implementation and students’ experiences. Where appropriate, findings from the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), a survey of first-year and senior undergraduate students, provided benchmark comparisons for the campus experiences of S-STEM recipients. A quasi-experimental design was employed to investigate program effects, using STEM majors included in the Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS), a study that followed the progress of a nationally representative sample of first-time beginning postsecondary students, as the comparison group; propensity score matching (PSM) was used to construct comparable groups of S-STEM recipients and BPS respondents. To draw a sample similar to S-STEM scholarship recipients, the comparison BPS sample (BPS counterparts) included only students that were U.S. citizens, full-time students, undergraduates, and enrolled in a STEM major. Finally, relational analyses explored the associations between project characteristics and practices and recipient outcomes.
The evaluation found evidence that S-STEM is furthering its goals, within STEM fields, to: improve educational opportunities for students; increase retention of students to degree achievement; improve student support programs at institutions of higher education; and increase the numbers of well-educated and skilled employees in technical areas of national need. S-STEM recipients are obtaining degrees and engaging in the STEM workforce. Importantly, findings reveal both the importance of allowing opportunity for local projects to design and implement a project that best meets local needs, but also some evidence of specific supports positively associated with desired outcomes, suggesting that there are some practices that should be encouraged. For example, both opportunities to engage with STEM outside of classrooms—through special lectures/seminars or attendance at conferences—and the availability of an S-STEM-specific advisor were associated with transfer from two-year to four-year programs.