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Persistence in Science of High-Ability Minority Students NSF

Benton, Nancy L.; Hilton, Thomas L.; Hsia, Jayjia; Solorzano, Daniel G.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
National Science Foundation (NSF), College Students, Majors (Students), Minority Groups, Persistence, Science


This study was undertaken to investigate why some high-ability minority students persist in the study of science and others do not. High ability was defined as achieving SAT-mathematical scores of 550 or above. A sample of 5,198 American Indian, Black American, Mexican American, and Puerto Rican students who took the SAT in 1985 was studied. All indicated that they intended to major in mathematics, science, engineering, premedical or predental studies (defined as MSE studies). In addition, 404 White students who met the same criteria were selected for comparison purposes and also 688 qualifying Asian American students were selected for a special study that is described in a supplementary report. A two-year follow-up indicated that the minority student persisted in MSE fields to an unusually high degree. Sixty-one percent were actually majoring in an MSE field or intended to do so. (In comparison 57% of the White students persisted and 72% of the Asian American students.) The largest number who withdrew from MSE majors transferred to non-MSE majors. Only .3% were dropouts. The persisting students had higher mean SAT-math scores but lower SAT-verbal scores than the students who transferred to other majors. The nature of the college environment, including recruitment, retention and quality of MSE instructional programs, was the most important predictor of persistence. Ethnicity per se contributed little to the prediction. The results indicate that when minority students have the opportunity to acquire the skills and interest required for successful study in MSE fields, they persist to a degree that is as high if not higher than that of White students. (60pp.)

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