Understanding STEM Graduation Rates and Success for Higher Education Administrators

Ginelle Testa

Higher education administrators play a crucial role in bolstering STEM success and boosting graduation rates. By implementing specific strategies, they can foster an environment that both nurtures STEM learning and maximizes student retention.

A study in The Journal of College Science Teaching found that “Of the students who reported their intention to major in a STEM discipline as incoming freshmen, 36.4% switched and graduated with a nonSTEM degree.” This statistic doesn’t even consider those who leave the school entirely. 

Many underlying factors contribute to this, ranging from faculty-facing concerns, such as curriculum design and teaching methodologies, to higher education administrators’ concerns, such as student support systems and institutional priorities. 

We’re going to focus on institutional leadership practices. 

Best Practices & Initiatives for Boosting STEM Success

It's pivotal for educational institutions to adapt and evolve their strategies to ensure the continuous growth and retention of students in STEM fields. Over time, various best practices and initiatives have emerged, demonstrating substantial positive impact. 

Let's delve into some of these effective measures:

1. Holistic Admission Processes: Moving Beyond Test Scores

Traditional reliance on standardized test scores for admissions is now considered limited. A comprehensive approach that considers experiences, projects, personal statements, and other achievements foster diversity and identifies students apt for STEM challenges.

2. Provide the Structure of Academic Support

A study indicates that 46% of first-year students with lower high school GPAs drop out of STEM, compared to only 14% with higher GPAs. Here are some resources administrators can offer:

  • Peer mentorship programs
  • Academic counseling
  • Mental health support
  • Summer preparatory programs

3. Faculty Training and Development to Support Diverse Student Needs

The modern student body is more diverse than ever. Faculty training can empower educators to address these varying needs. Embracing inclusive teaching methods, recognizing diverse learning styles, and fostering mutual respect are all pivotal.

4. Implement Early Intervention Programs

As STEM disciplines can be inherently rigorous and demanding, students often encounter setbacks and hurdles early in their academic journey. Research has shown that early interventions can help students regain control, thus preventing potential dropouts.

5. Financial Aid and Scholarship Programs for STEM Students

The cost of higher education is a notable obstacle for many STEM hopefuls. Scholarships and financial aid tailored for STEM students can help them concentrate on their academic journey. For instance, a collaborative study found that need-based aid could dramatically increase STEM course and degree completion.

6. Offer Real-world Application and Industry Partnerships

Provide students with opportunities to experience real-world applications of their studies. Partnering with local industries to facilitate internships, co-op experiences, and collaborative projects not only bolsters the students' practical skills but also makes their education more relevant and meaningful.

7. Select Technology to Support STEM Success

As we tread deeper into the digital age, technology's role in enhancing educational experiences cannot be understated. Institutions should prioritize investments in technology that aligns with their educational goals and the evolving needs of STEM students. One such resource is virtual labs. 

An external study conducted in a large Texas university using Labster found that using virtual labs as a pre-lab has increased students' intention to enroll in STEM courses and plan a career in STEM. 


In summary, the road to boosting STEM success as higher education administration requires a multifaceted approach that prioritizes student well-being, supports instructors, promotes inclusivity, and continuously adapts to the changing dynamics of modern education. 

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