More Financial Aid + Less Need to Work = More STEM Graduates?

Goldie Blumenstyck:

Students who major in the sciences often spend more time in out-of-class work—in labs or field research—than other students do. That means less time to earn money while in college, and sometimes it’s the reason financially needy students switch out of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, the STEM fields.

Would an extra $1,000 a year in financial aid help some of those STEM-inclined students stick with it?

That’s the essence of a new study getting under way next fall at 11 Wisconsin colleges. With $4-million from the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation, which will make possible the extra $1,000 a year, and a $1.5-million grant from the National Science Foundation, Sara Goldrick-Rab will study the effects of the extra aid by comparing the academic paths of 1,000 students who will get the money with 1,000 others who won’t.

The grants won’t displace other financial aid that the students are otherwise due to receive, and when students are told they are getting the money, “it’s not going to say, ‘You’ve got to do STEM,’” says Ms. Goldrick-Rab, an associate professor of educational-policy studies and sociology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The idea behind the project is simply to see if giving students fewer reasons to work, and no other requirements, makes a difference in helping more lower-income students pursue STEM majors.