Previous research has documented numerous factors that impede the progress of women and underrepresented minorities in engineering fields, which can be broadly categorized into six factors: “classroom and academic climate, grades and conceptual understanding, self-efficacy and self-confidence, high school preparation, interest and career goals, and race and gender” (Geisinger and Raman, 2013). While high school preparation is a critical determinant in student success, many of the connections between high school characteristics and college outcomes have not been thoroughly studied. This study helps fill this important knowledge gap by examining how high school math and science course taking, as well as access to high school math and science courses, explain engineering major choice and degree attainment in college.
To identify the connection between high school math and science courses and college engineering major choice and degree completion, we apply both descriptive and regression analyses. We use comprehensive administrative data from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). The sample includes all public high schools (grades 10-12) in Missouri between 1996 and 2009. Data include student-level demographic information and academic transcripts, and high school-level characteristics (e.g., proportion of students on free and reduced lunch, number of math and science offered, and level of urbanicity).
The number of math and sciences credits offered at high schools may determine the level of preparation prospective engineering students in college have and should also be taken into account when designing first-year engineering courses. High school characteristics help shape the opportunities and experiences of students, and should be considered in college recruitment strategies and in the evaluation of individual college applications. Therefore, our findings have important implications for understanding how to prepare high school students to pursue college engineering majors, as well as for college engineering programs to consider how high school academic records should be considered in terms of admissions policies.
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