Why Science Majors Change Their Minds

A recent NY Times article examines why science majors in college change their minds. Two important ideas worth noting for primary and secondary education – the downside of competition in education and the benefits of project-based learning.

 “We’re losing an alarming proportion of our nation’s science talent once the students get to college,” says Mitchell J. Chang, an education professor at U.C.L.A. who has studied the matter. “It’s not just a K-12 preparation issue.”

Professor Chang indicates that the attrition rate can be higher at the most selective schools, where he believes the competition overwhelms even well-qualified students. “If you take two students who have the same high school grade-point average and SAT scores, and you put one in a highly selective school like Berkeley and the other in a school with lower average scores like Cal State, that Berkeley student is at least 13 percent less likely than the one at Cal State to finish a STEM degree” says Chang.

The article also highlights research that students learn more by grappling with open-ended problems, like creating a computer game, than listening to lectures. Some colleges are taking this to heart and adding projects and design work to their science curriculum.