Strengthening the STEM Pipeline

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Strengthening the STEM Pipeline: The Contributions of Small and Mid-Sized Independent Colleges demonstrates that small and mid-sized independent institutions are preparing students for careers and graduate study in STEM fields more efficiently than many public universities.

Contrary to popular assumptions, the report shows that smaller private colleges have higher student persistence and degree completion rates in STEM fields and shorter time to the bachelor’s degree than larger universities. Bachelor’s degree recipients from small and mid-sized independent institutions in the STEM fields also are more often committed to further education at the time of graduation, and many of them immediately enroll in graduate programs after obtaining bachelor’s degrees. And graduates of private colleges are more likely to pursue doctoral degrees in STEM fields than graduates of public four-year institutions. In some of the STEM fields, small and mid-sized independent colleges produce more graduates who obtain PhDs than much larger research universities.
 

 Key Findings

 
The data suggest that, as a sector, small and mid-sized private institutions performed better than public institutions in students’ persistence and undergraduate degree completion rates in STEM fields and they substantially outperformed public nondoctoral institutions. In addition, STEM graduates of small and mid-sized private colleges are just as likely to enroll in a graduate program as their peers who graduated from larger public universities.
  • At small and mid-sized independent institutions, 80 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients in STEM fields earned their degrees in four years or less, compared with 34 percent at public four-year nondoctoral institutions and 52 percent at public four-year doctoral institutions. 

  • A much larger proportion (57 percent) of graduates in STEM fields from small and mid-sized independent institutions planned to apply to graduate school upon receipt of their bachelor’s degrees, compared with slightly more than 40 percent of graduates from public four-year institutions.

  • One-fifth (19 percent) of the bachelor’s degree recipients in STEM fields from small and mid-sized independent institutions immediately enrolled in master’s or doctoral degree programs after obtaining their bachelor’s degrees, a comparable percentage with public four-year doctoral institutions (22 percent) and exceeding that of public four-year nondoctoral institutions (14 percent).
 

 Policy Recommendations

 
In order to reap the full benefits of a strong STEM workforce through higher education, policy makers should assist the sector of education in which colleges and universities have demonstrated that they can prepare many people for STEM careers effectively and efficiently—namely, small and mid-sized private colleges. Specifically, these policies might include:
  • ƒProvide additional federal funding to students who major in STEM fields at small and mid-sized private colleges to maximize efficient production of undergraduate degrees in STEM fields and of future scientists;

  • ƒƒAllow students who wish to major in a STEM field to receive at least as much state financial aid for use at private colleges that have demonstrated equivalent efficiency in degree production as their in-state flagship research university;

  • ƒƒFoster partnerships among high schools, businesses, and community organizations to identify promising students and encourage special programs and funding for both their STEM education at small and mid-sized private colleges and their future entry into the U.S. STEM workforce; and

  • ƒƒCreate incentives through tax relief for businesses to provide specialized laboratory equipment to small and mid-sized private colleges to shorten transition time from the classroom to the workplace.
 

 Media Coverage

 
 

 Contact Information

 
For questions about Strengthening the STEM Pipeline: The Contributions of Small and Mid-Sized Independent Colleges, please contact CIC Director of Research Projects Jesse Rine at jrine@cic.nche.edu or (202) 466-7230.