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During college many students switch from their planned major to another, particularly so when that planned major was in a Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) field. A worrying statistic shows that persistence in one of these majors is much lower for women and minorities, suggesting that this may be a leaky joint in the STEM pipeline for these two groups of students. This paper uses restricted-use data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshmen (NLSF) and the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS:88) to examine which factors contribute to persistence of all students in STEM field majors, and in particular the persistence of women and minorities. Although descriptive statistics show that a smaller percentage of women and minorities persist in a STEM field major as compared to male and nonminority students, regression analysis shows that differences in preparation and the educational experiences of these students explains much of the differences in persistence rates. Students at selective institutions with a large graduate to undergraduate student ratio and that devote a significant amount of spending to research have lower rates of persistence in STEM fields. A higher percentage of female STEM field graduate students positively impacts on the persistence of female students. However, there is little evidence that having a larger percentage of STEM field faculty members that are female increases the likelihood of persistence for women in STEM majors. These results suggest that the sorting of women and minorities into different types of undergraduate programs, as well as differences in their backgrounds have a significant impact on persistence rates.


Suggested Citation
Griffith, A.L. (2010). Persistence of women and minorities in STEM field majors: Is it the school that matters? [Electronic version]. Retrieved [insert date], from Cornell University, School of Industrial and Labor Relations site:

Required Publisher Statement
Published by the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, Cornell University.