Any student who’s taken a math or science class at the University has grappled with the demands of a rigorous academic schedule. The burden is taking a toll as an increasing number of students who enter college with the intention of majoring in a STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — discipline decide to switch majors. As the United States continues to lag in math and science education, it’s important that the University continue to foster a supportive environment for students studying these subjects.
According to a study cited by a Nov. 4 article in the New York Times, about 40 percent of students who plan on majoring in engineering or science switch concentrations or fail to receive a degree. When pre-medical students are taken into account, this number rises to roughly 60 percent.
It’s encouraging that the Obama administration has made math and science education a priority. The topic was mentioned in the State of the Union address last January, and last June the president called on universities to produce 10,000 more engineers each year. As the U.S. navigates a more competitive global economy, an emphasis on math and science is essential to creating a healthy climate for technological innovation.
More students sticking to the pre-medical track could mean better progress toward reducing the projected deficit of 91,500 physicians by 2020, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Action is better than rhetoric — Obama should set forward substantive policy initiatives that directly address shortcomings in college-level math and science education.
The University should also address the issue. As a first step, tracking the number of students who switch majors would help determine the scope of the problem. Steps to combat attrition could include redesigning lower-level coursework, modifying grading procedures to ease freshmen into math and science learning and expanding tutoring resources available on campus. Though both the University and the federal government are aware of the issue, it must become a focus as the need for students with math and science backgrounds continues to grow.