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Differences in the Survey Responses of Asian American and White Science and Engineering Students

Grandy, Jerilee E.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Report
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Asian Americans, College Students, Engineering, Minority Students, Racial Differences, Science, Student Attitudes, Student Experience, Surveys


A recent survey of gender and ethnic differences among science and engineering majors suggested that Asian American students were less content with their undergraduate experiences and with their field of study than were White students or students of other ethnic groups. Asian Americans appeared to enjoy their studies less and to feel more pressured by family to continue their science or engineering studies. Their responses indicated that they were less encouraged by professors to continue in their field, and they gave lower ratings to their relationships with professors. This study reports the results of additional analyses aimed at better understanding the responses of Asian Americans. Results of the additional analyses indicated that Asian American students tended to endorse the middle response on a 5-point Likert scale more than White students did, and to avoid extreme responses. This response style accounted, in part, for the lower ratings Asian Americans gave to their undergraduate experiences. When items were rescored, collapsing the 5-point scale to a 3-point scale, Asian American ratings were still lower. These results indicated that there was at least one type of Asian American response set affecting the comparison of Asian Americans with Whites. Furthermore, Asian Americans were either less content with their studies, or the tendency to respond more neutrally to questions of judgment was another type of response set. A hypothesis was posed that students in large research universities would be less content than students in other institutions, and that because a greater proportion of Asian Americans than Whites attend large research universities, the relative discontent of Asian Americans might be attributable to the type of institution attended. This hypothesis was not supported by the data. Response styles that are unique to specific ethnic groups may lead researchers to draw erroneous conclusions from survey data. A number of recommendations are made for further research to determine how general the Asian American response set is, and to attempt to account for the lower satisfaction ratings of Asian Americans even when a correction is made for a response set.

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