HOPE scholarship deters college students from majoring in STEM fields: GSU report

By David Pendered

Fear of losing a HOPE scholarship may be one reason college students are steering away from a degree in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, according to research conducted by a professor at Georgia State University.

HOPE STEM

High school and college students steer away from classes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) out of a fear of jeopardizing their HOPE scholarships, according to recent research by Georgia State University. Credit: onlineathens.com

“We find that as a result of these merit aid programs, there was a significant drop in the probability of students majoring in STEM,” David Sjoquist, co-author of the study, said in a statement.

Sjoquist is an economics professor in the Center for State and Local Finance and the Fiscal Research Center at GSU’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies. John Winters, of Oklahoma State University, collaborated on the project.

Sjoquist and Winters have produced two reports since August that are adding substance to the debate over the need to tweak the HOPE scholarship.

One emerging issue is the scholarship’s requirement that recipients maintain a minimum grade point average of 3.0, on a 4.0-point scale. Other requirements exist. The 3.0 GPA must be maintained, regardless of the perceived difficulty of the field of study, to retain the scholarship.

Here’s how Sjoquist framed the issue in GSU’s statement:

  • “Further analysis is needed to explain why merit aid affects the choice of college major. If the effect is a result of students’ concern with earning the grade-point average (GPA) necessary to maintain scholarship eligibility, one policy solution would be to lower the GPA requirement for STEM majors. If high school students avoid courses that would prepare them for STEM majors to maintain eligibility for merit aid, basing their eligibility on SAT or ACT scores could reduce that problem.”

Further research is needed to determine the reason merit aid affects choice of the college major. The Sjoquist/Winters research establishes that merit aid does affect choice of major.

This is the abstract from the paper published in August, emphasis supplied:

David Sjoquist

David Sjoquist

  • “Since 1991 more than two dozen states have adopted merit-based student financial aid programs, intended at least in part to increase the stock of human capital by improving the knowledge and skills of the state’s workforce. At the same time, there has been growing concern that the United States is producing too few college graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Using microdata from the American Community Survey, this paper examines whether recently adopted state merit aid programs have affected college major decisions, with a focus on STEM fields. We find consistent evidence that state merit programs did in fact reduce the likelihood that a young person in the state will earn a STEM degree.

This is the conclusion of the abstract from the second paper (the beginning of the abstract repeated the wording of the first abstract):

  • “[T]his paper examines whether recently adopted state merit aid programs have affected college major decisions, with a focus on STEM fields. We find consistent evidence that state merit programs did in fact reduce the likelihood that a young person in the state will earn a STEM degree.”

The second study reviewed 27 states, including Georgia, which adopted merit-based state aid programs between 1991 and 2005, according to GSU’s statement. Researchers paid particular attention to nine states viewed as having strong programs – Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Results indicate that a strong merit aid program relates to a 6.5 percent reduction in the number of STEM graduates. The drop could be as great as 9.1 percent. A greater proportion of males than females dropped out of STEM programs, according to the statement.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

8 replies
  1. Lunaville says:

    I can see so many sides of this issue. There are certainly more than “two sides” to consider. Some things to think about relevant to this article:

    1. Educating our young people is an investment that will drive Georgia competitiveness and improve our economy.
    2. Still, providing the HOPE scholarship is costly to taxpayers.
    3. Sometimes we have competing concerns, such as healthcare for the working class, that also need dollars.
    4. Fear of not getting or losing the HOPE scholarship absolutely shapes the classes high school students and college students take.
    5. There is still a need for non-STEM majors. In fact, should every student rush into STEM, there would be a glut of jobseekers and a shortage of jobs there.
    6. Student pressure is increased by the increasing proclivity of colleges to accept students from out of state or from abroad in order to collect the greater tuition.
    7. Students from outside the state are a benefit – even when they take a coveted spot at, for instance, Georgia Tech. Having students from all over the country and the world on a campus, enriches that community and allows students new experiences and friendships that would not otherwise be possible.

    Somehow all of these things are related and other readers could add many more factors to this list. I do not envy anyone tasked with trying to determine precisely why students are veering away from STEM. It is such a complex issue with so many different threads.Report

    Reply
  2. MarkfromAtlanta says:

    “Further analysis is needed to explain why
    merit aid affects the choice of college major. If the effect is a result of
    students’ concern with earning the grade-point average (GPA) necessary to
    maintain scholarship eligibility, one policy solution would be to lower the GPA
    requirement for STEM majors. If high school students avoid courses that would
    prepare them for STEM majors to maintain eligibility for merit aid, basing
    their eligibility on SAT or ACT scores could reduce that problem.”
    _______________________________________________________________________________
    Neither would be good policy. Yes, lowering the GPA requirement for STEM majors
    would have the effect of broadening the pool of candidates for medical school,
    engineering school etc. But, society benefits when those in these professions
    have a “knack” for those fields of study. If someone struggles to
    excel in those subject’s core classes it is likely they will struggle in the
    professions. Does society really benefit from having doctors or engineers who
    lack an innate talent?
    In addition, lowering GPA requirements for
    STEM majors so they are privileged in receiving Hope funding sends the signal
    that non-STEM majors are less valued. Society needs a robust cadre of writers,
    artists and philosophers. While STEM folks help us to understand
    “how?”, non-STEM people help answer “why?” (and why not).
    Suggesting we base Hope eligibility on SAT or ACT scores in order to help
    prevent students from avoiding the harder STEM courses indicates a fundamental
    ignorance of the realities of education. Since about half the SAT and ACT
    scores come from reading and writing, this would have the effect of penalizing
    some students who have a particularly strong predilection toward math/science.
    As a science major many years ago I knew a few fellow students who really
    struggled in standardized language arts exams, but were absolute wizards in
    math and science. Basing their Hope on SAT/ACT may have doomed their prospects
    for Hope funding and deprived the scientific community of invaluable members.
    A better solution would be to move the Hope eligibility from being solely merit
    based to both merit and needs based. For most upper-income students the Hope
    scholarship is barely a drop in the bucket for attending elite institutions
    such as Emory, Mercer, Oglethorpe, Agnes Scott etc. But for lower income
    students that little bit can still make a big difference, particularly when
    attending relatively low cost public schools such as Tech, GSU or UGA.
    Increasing the pool of low income students would help identify and nurture an
    underutilized source of potential talented STEM majors. Who knows, a young Georgian
    who develops practical cold fusion energy or a cure for cancer could be among them.Report

    Reply
  3. John Milivich says:

    There are a number of concerns with TopResume. The site takes orders and does not identify where they are located and provides no customer service number. If you would like to find info about “topresume discount“, welcome to Scamfighter.Report

    Reply
  4. Andrew Harret says:

    Among all other subjects, Nursing term papers are probably the most troublesome for the students who have to write them. nursing for outstanding grades at nursing school.Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.