Inside Higher Ed had a piece yesterday about leaks in the science pipeline— that is, reasons why so few students end up majoring in science, math, or engineering these days. The hook for the article is some Congressional hearings on the subject, but the author lists some possible explanations related to the structure of academia (bold headings are from the article, the summaries are mine):
- Greener Grade Pastures: Students in science and engineering get lower grades than humanities students, and some students choose majors based on projected GPA.
- Weeding Out: The culture of science presumes that only those “good enough” should make it, and intentionally makes the intro classes difficult to drive lesser students away.
- Large and Impersonal: Introductory science courses are often taught in huge sections, which students find unpleasant, while humanities courses may be smaller. This ties in with the grades issue.
- Math and Science Goes Vertical: Math and science majors tend to be hierarchical, with the introductory courses often being hard and boring, before students get to the really interesting material in the upper-level classes.
Some of these are good points (particularly the first and last), others not so much. In the comments, they get a number of other responses, ranging from the thoughtful to “most science faculty are borderline autistic and can’t teach worth a damn,” which is the sort of productive broad-minded thinking we all associate with the humanities. I’m sure there are things that could be added to the list, and ways to address these points, but they make an interesting starting point for discussion.