AbstractsEducation Research & Administration

Stem trends in higher education: a comparative study of student attitudes as persistence factors among biology majors

by Aaron Roth

Institution: Northeastern University
Year: 2016
Keywords: expectancy; STEM; value; Biology; Premedical education; College students; Attitudes; Persistence; Motivation in education
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2081788
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2047/D20209266


Students who feel that Biology is important for them to achieve their career or professional school goals are more likely to persist. While students entering college as premed vs. non-premed persisted at the same rate, those who changed their mind about med school were more likely to switch to another major. The purpose of this research study was to investigate the role that student attitudes play in persistence among Biology majors. This study utilized Expectancy-Value Theory as a theoretical framework. This theory is founded in evidence that student's choice, persistence, and performance is linked to their beliefs about how well they will perform within a subject of study and how much they value the subject. The research questions that guided this study are as follows. Is persistence within the Biology major correlated to student task-value beliefs and academic self-concept as defined by expectancy-value theory? Is there a difference in persistence rates among Biology students who express premed intentions and those who do not intend to apply to medical school? Do students who express intentions to apply to medical school within the biology major exhibit higher task-value scores in the Student Attitude Questionnaire (SAQ) than students within the biology major who do not express premedical intensions? What are the key triggers for persistence in students in Biology? This quantitative research study was conducted within the Biology Department at Northeastern University and its target population was students who entered the university as Biology majors within the past five years. The target population included both pre-med and non-premed students who entered their freshman year as Biology majors. Data was collected from existing enrollment data and subsequent questionnaires and was analyzed to determine if students who declare there intention to apply to medical school upon entering college are more likely to persist within the biology major than those who do not. The Student Attitude questionnaire (SAQ) was utilized to measure student attitudes, anxiety levels, and achievement. Specifically, this questionnaire is designed to measure ability belief variables, expectancy variables, and value variables. Persisters were sampled during their biology Capstone course. Switchers were contacted via email and asked to participate in the SAQ via Surveymonkey.com. There was no difference between switchers and persisters according to self-concept variables (except for confidence in lab courses). This finding contradicts previous studies that have shown self-concept to have a great impact on persistence. Results indicate that value measures in the form of professional aspirations are the most important factor influencing persistence in biology. Students who left the biology major exhibited a lack of knowledge of available career paths within the discipline, often stating their belief that a biology degree was only useful for entrance into medical school or a career in lab-based research. This suggests that…