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Supplemental Instruction for Increased STEM Student Success

April 2012, Volume 15, Number 4

By Mark Filowitz, Sean Walker, Martin V. Bonsangue, Hye Sun Moon, and Edward Sullivan

There is a critical shortage of U.S. students being trained in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines, fields that are vital to effectively meet national and global strategic challenges. Fully one third of all Ph.D. graduates of known citizen status were non-U.S. citizen temporary visa holders. Many talented undergraduate students, under-represented minorities in particular, are deterred from continuing with degree programs in STEM due to the difficulties encountered in gateway courses of the hierarchical curriculum. As the only Hispanic-serving four-year higher education institution in Orange County, California, California State University, Fullerton (CSUF) can demonstrate a successful model of how to improve STEM success, particularly among under-represented populations.

Hispanics are the largest and fastest growing ethnic group in California, yet they have the lowest level of educational attainment in the state, with only 10 percent completing a bachelor’s degree and 2 percent completing a graduate degree. Correspondingly, Hispanics are dramatically under-represented in STEM majors at colleges and universities. While Hispanics account for 19 percent of the 20- to 24-year-olds in the United States, they make up only 13 percent of community college graduates, 10 percent of university graduates, and 6 percent of STEM graduates. Demographic and educational trends suggest that although the Hispanic population will continue to grow very rapidly, participation in higher education by Hispanic students will not keep pace. Additionally, although the projected increase in school-age Hispanics will expand the pool of students in the educational pipeline, without effective interventions, the higher education end of the STEM pipeline will remain narrow, with only a small number of Hispanics achieving STEM degrees. Numerous studies indicate that Hispanic and low-income students are less likely to enter STEM professions because, compared with other students, they are less well prepared for college, both academically and socially. These students take longer to earn STEM degrees, have poorer first-year persistence rates, and transfer from two-year colleges into STEM fields in fewer numbers.

CSUF is located 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles, and is Orange County’s largest university (~36,000 students in Fall 2010 and ~35,000 students in spring 2011) as well as its only four-year public comprehensive university and only four-year Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). The campus is also an Asian American and Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AAPI). All demographic projections indicate that Orange and Los Angeles Counties will continue to grow rapidly in population, particularly among under-represented minorities. CSUF is classified as “Master’s Colleges and Universities–Large” in the Carnegie System, and is the second largest of the 23 California State University (CSU) campuses (www.calstate.edu). CSU, the largest senior system of higher education in the U.S., is comprised of more than 400,000 students and grants over 50 percent of the bachelor’s degrees and 30 percent of the master’s degrees in the state. The other two tiers of higher education in California include the research intensive University of California system (10 campuses serving over 200,000 students) and the community college system (112 campuses serving more than 2.9 million students). Significantly, CSUF is always the top choice for community college transfer students in our area and has the largest number of transfer students from California’s community colleges to a CSU campus.

A distinctive feature of CSUF is the diversity of its student body. Nearly 60 percent of CSUF undergraduate students are female, and there is no ethnic majority on campus: 31.3 percent identify themselves as white, 30.2 percent as Hispanic, 21.2 percent as Asian and Pacific Islander, 4.7 percent international students, 2.7 percent as African American, 2.4 percent as multiple race, 0.4 percent as Native American, and 7.2  percent as unknown. More than half come from families in which neither parent graduated from college. The demographics of our community college transfer students include 27.5 percent Hispanic, 19.8 percent Asian/Pacific Islander, 1.7 percent African American, and 0.5 percent Native American (fall 2009). Our campus has a strong commitment to our minority students as evidenced by the following: CSUF ranks #9 nationally in the number of baccalaureates awarded to minority students (Diverse Issues in Higher Education, June 2011) and is first in California and fifth nationally in the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded to Hispanics (Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, May 2011). Further, the President of CSUF, Milton Gordon, serves as Chair of the Governing Board of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU).

Supplemental Instruction to Retain Majors and Improve Success in STEM

The goal of the supplemental instruction (SI) program at CSUF is to improve retention and success of undergraduates who will enter into STEM careers. Further, it aims to reduce the achievement gap between under-represented minorities (URMs) and others in the STEM fields. First-time freshmen and community college transfer students who major in STEM fields are often discouraged by inadequate preparation for very hierarchical curricula that prevent students from progressing to a degree. Essential gateway courses like biology and calculus have high failing rates and low average grade point averages that can discourage potentially good STEM students from sticking with the major. SI is not tutoring or extra recitation assignments, and it has been proven to accomplish its intended goals.

In 2007, CSUF implemented SI programs modeled after the University of Missouri-Kansas City SI program. Results to date indicate consistent and significant grade point average improvements and passing rate improvements in crucial gateway STEM courses. In spring 2009, 10 SI workshop sections were offered including an introductory level biology course, pre-Calculus, Calculus I, and Calculus II. In fall 2009, SI workshop sections rose to 17 with additional courses added, including Organic Chemistry I and College Algebra. In spring 2010, SI workshops increased to 20 sections and included Organic Chemistry II and Physical Chemistry II. In fall 2010, SI workshops increased to 35 with additional courses now including Cellular Basis of Life and three gateway computer science courses: Introduction to Programming; Programming Concepts; and Data Structure Concepts. In spring 2011, CSUF fielded 39 SI sections, all entirely funded by external grants. Through the end of the spring 2010 semester, approximately 3,000 students have been involved in three or more sessions of the SI workshops at CSUF. These SI workshops have been very successful. In introductory gateway biology courses the average improvement in GPA (students attending SI sessions regularly versus those who did not participate in SI) is 0.72, going from 2.25 to 2.97. In mathematics, the improvement in GPA is 0.50, going from 1.90 to 2.40, and the passing rate for SI participants was 82 percent versus 69 percent for nonparticipants. More detailed analyses were conducted with two classes where we have the most experience with SI: Calculus I (Math 150A at CSUF) and Biodiversity and Evolution (Biol 171 at CSUF). The results are conclusive and are particularly strong for the impact on under-represented minorities (URMs).

Each of the SI sessions is led by a student who has strong content and communication skills. This is a central element of the program, since students are often more apt to reveal their course weaknesses to a peer than to a professor. The SI leaders in all of the disciplines also attend a one-day training session led by professors from the disciplines, most of whom have attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City SI training program. In biology and computer science, students in targeted SI courses have the option to attend SI sessions that are offered twice each week. In mathematics, students sign up for the SI session as a separate one-unit course and are required to attend. In all the disciplines, SI leaders attend the professor’s lecture each day to ensure that their SI sessions are current, and to act as a role model for students in the course. SI leaders then meet with students at least three hours per week to creatively work on problems based on that week’s lessons, using tools like the “Jeopardy” game to engage students. Each SI leader receives $1,500 per semester as compensation (roughly $10 per hour). SI coordinators receive three units of course release. There are faculty SI coordinators in mathematics, biological science, and computer science.

As noted earlier, the most heavily studied impacts of SI were in Math 150A (Calculus I) since 2008 and Biol 171 (Biodiversity and Evolution) since 2007. Representative data from students who entered CSUF as first-time freshman are shown below and demonstrate the increases in grade point average and passing rates in these courses when students attend at least five sessions of SI. Shown below are the impacts comparing SI participants to nonparticipants, and further comparing impact on URM to non-URM students. To attempt to control for self-selection, high school GPA was used as a covariate in the analyses. Even after controlling for high school GPA, SI participation still significantly affected course grade and course success rate in both Math 150A and Biol 171. SI participants were more likely to achieve high course grades and pass the courses than were nonparticipants, with a similar positive effect on URM or non-URM students.

Effects of SI on Mathematics 150A

Course grade of URM and non-URM students who participated or did not participate in SI in Mathematics 150A fall 08 – fall 10

Results of analysis of covariance testing the effects of high school GPA, participation in SI, and URM on course GPA in Mathematics 150A

Effect

F ratio

P

High School GPA

26.189

«0.001

SI Participation

27.519

«0.001

URM

14.545

«0.001

SI Participation  * URM

0.931

0.335

Success rates of URM and non-URM students who participated or did not participate in SI in Mathematics 150A fall 08 – fall 10

Title: Success Rates

Results of logistic regression testing the effects of high school GPA, participation in SI, and URM on course success in Mathematics 150A 

Variable

Coefficient (B)

Wald c2

P

Odds ratio

High School GPA

1.154

12.115

0.001

3.171

SI Participation

.968

7.228

0.007

2.632

URM

-1.159

12.750

«0.001

0.314

SI Participation * URM

0.564

1.348

0.246

1.758

Number of students, success rate, participation rate, and high school GPA of URM and non-URM students who participated or did not participate in SI in Mathematics 150A

 

URM
Status

SI Participation

Number of Students

Success Rate

Grade

HS GPA

URM

 NOT PARTICIPANT

79

0.37

1.27

3.22

 PARTICIPANT

106

0.73

2.12

3.27

Non-URM

 NOT PARTICIPANT

97

0.62

1.83

3.15

 PARTICIPANT

79

0.81

2.40

3.17

Effects of SI on BIOL171
Course grade of URM and non-URM students who participated or did not participate in SI in BIOL 171 fall 07 – fall 10

Results of analysis of covariance testing the effects of high school GPA, participation in SI, and URM on course GPA in Biology 171


Effect

F ratio

P

High School GPA

62.349

«0.001

Participation in SI

102.227

«0.001

URM

18.461

«0.001

Participation * URM

1.206

0.272

Success rates of URM and non-URM students who participated or did not participate in SI in Biology 171 fall 07 – fall 10

Title: Success Rates

Results of logistic regression testing the effects of high school GPA, participation in SI, and URM on course success in Biology 171

Variable

Coefficient (B)

Wald c2

P

Odds ratio

High School GPA

1.065

30.592

«0.001

2.901

SI Participation

1.446

39.619

«0.001

4.244

URM

-0.547

9.872

0.002

0.579

SI Participation * URM

-0.080

0.059

0.808

0.923

 

Number of students, success rate, participation rate. and high school GPA of URM and non-URM students who participated or did not participate in SI in Biology 171

URM
Status

SI Participation

Number
Of Students

Success Rate

Mean GPA

HS GPA

URM

NOT PARTICIPANT

255

0.47

1.64

3.16

PARTICIPANT

156

0.80

2.63

3.32

Non-URM

NOT PARTICIPANT

316

0.61

2.14

3.22

PARTICIPANT

239

0.88

2.90

3.29

 

Mark S. Filowitz is Associate Dean, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics; Edward Sullivan is Assistant Vice President, Office of Institutional Research & Analytical Studies; Sean E. Walker is Associate Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Biological Science; HyeSun Moon is Senior Research Associate, Institutional Research and Analytical Studies; and Martin V. Bonsangue is Associate Professor and Vice Chair, Department of Mathematics, at California State University Fullerton.

Opinions expressed in Learning Abstracts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.

Posted by The League for Innovation in the Community College on 04/11/2012 at 8:00 AM | Categories: Learning Abstracts -