Increase Student Retention in STEM Courses

The college-to-career STEM pipeline is leaking at both ends, with fewer students enrolling and completing STEM degrees.

Schools that adopt virtual labs and other evidence-based active learning strategies have found they move the needle on STEM retention, supporting university budgets, elevating students’ career prospects, and building a qualified STEM workforce. Discover how virtual labs can help solve the student retention challenge in education. 

Knowledge gaps harm retention

46% of first-year students with lower high school GPAs drop out of their STEM programs compared to only 14% of their peers with higher GPAs (5).

Student STEM success is inequitable

Hispanic students are 1.2 times more likely to switch to non-STEM majors than their white peers. For black students, the likelihood increases to 1.3 (2).

Simulations target students in need

Students with the lowest level of knowledge saw the greatest improvements, increasing scores 24% with Labster (6).

Taking an active learning approach is a successful way to improve grades and pass rates in STEM courses. But what is active learning — and how can schools put it into practice? Active learning uses activities to involve students in cognitively processing educational content (7). Examples include inquiry-based, problem-based, project-based, and experiential learning strategies (8). 

Complementing traditional lectures with active learning techniques and tools has been found to increase final grades by half a letter grade or higher, narrowing gaps in pass rates by 45% (9). This is critical for retention because many low-income and diverse STEM majors who struggle with gateway courses receive final course grades near, but below, the threshold required to persist in a STEM major. Active learning lifts them out of the danger zone (10). 

Take the Product Tour to discover how Labster can help your STEM program drive retention.

Increase Student Retention

Discover how Labster can help your students complete their STEM education.


(1) Saul, Stephanie. (2022, October 3). At NYU, students were failing Organic Chemistry. Who was to blame? The New York Times.

(2) Chen, X. (2013). STEM Attrition: College Students' Paths into and out of STEM Fields. Statistical Analysis Report. NCES 2014-001. National Center for Education Statistics.

(3) Hatfield, N., Brown, N., & Topaz, C. M. (2022). Do introductory courses disproportionately drive minoritized students out of STEM pathways?. PNAS Nexus, 1(4), pgac167. 

(4) National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. (2019, October 7). High school benchmarks – 2019.

(5) Hamm, J. M., Perry, R. P., Chipperfield, J. G., Hladkyj, S., Parker, P. C., & Weiner, B. (in press). Reframing achievement setbacks: A motivation intervention to improve 8-year graduation rates for students in STEM fields. Psychological Science.

(6) Makransky, G., Bonde, M. T., Wulff, J. S., Wandall, J., Hood, M., Creed, P. A., ... & Nørremølle, A. (2016). Simulation-based virtual learning environment in medical genetics counseling: an example of bridging the gap between theory and practice in medical education. BMC medical education, 16(1), 1-9.

(7) Armellini, A., & Rodriguez, B. C. P. (2021). Active blended learning: Definition, literature review, and a framework for implementation. Cases on Active Blended Learning in Higher Education, 1-22.

(8) Zehnder, C., Alby, C., Kleine, K., & Metzker, J. (2021). Learning that matters: A field guide to course design for transformative education. Myers Education Press.

(9) Theobald, E. J., Hill, M. J., Tran, E., Agrawal, S., Arroyo, E. N., Behling, S., et al. (2020a). Active Learning Narrows Achievement Gaps for Underrepresented Students in Undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. PNAS March 24, 2020 117 (12), 6476–6483.

(10) Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410-8415.