With the increased demand for admission to Biomedical Engineering (BME) degrees, many programs apply rigorous enrollment management protocols (EMPs) ensure the academic suitability of candidates and manage student numbers. However some evidence suggests the weed-out tradition selects against students on a full spectrum of talent and academic preparedness . In addition, there is evidence that women and under-represented minorities (URM) are affected negatively by this approach .
At the institution, where this study is performed, the admissions department determines who is admitted to the BME program. In effort to manage enrollment, the BME program requires a grade of a B or better in five different math and science courses as a pre-requisite to enroll in a fall semester sophomore year gateway course in the BME major. A crucial question is whether or not this specific EMP may select against women and other URM, similar to the weed-out tradition. The aim of this study is therefore to understand the potential negative effects of this particular EMP on women and URM.
Materials and Methods:
Enrollment of students (n=415) who initially declared BME were tracked over two academic years (2018-2019). We paid specific attention to underrepresented minorities (URM) and women. Of those students that subsequently switched from BME to another major, we investigated the degree they switched to.
Results and Discussion:
In this study, we observed striking results related with student demographics. Between the freshman year and the sophomore-level gateway course, approximately 48% of students switched major (switchers) or left the university. Most of the switchers left engineering entirely. Switchers were disproportionately female (57%) and disproportionately URM (32% of switchers, compared to 18% of non-switchers).
The results of this study will serve as the first step to understand and characterize the demographics of the students in the BME program. Future work will be done to characterize different EMPs at other BME departments and identify best practices and practical solutions to help retain women and URM in BME.
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