Press Release

Great Lakes Commits $9 Million to Increase the Number of STEM Graduates Nationwide

October 14, 2014

THREE INITIATIVES WILL HELP REDUCE TROUBLING ATTRITION RATES AMONG DISADVANTAGED STUDENTS

Madison, Wis., October 14, 2014—The number of new jobs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields is increasing 1.7 times faster than other industries, which means more college students will need to earn STEM degrees and certificates to meet this demand. Great opportunities—with higher wages and lower unemployment rates—are waiting for those who do.

Yet fewer than 40% of students who enter college intending to major in a STEM field complete a STEM degree, if they graduate at all. The loss is particularly acute among both women and under-represented students: those from low-income backgrounds, students of color, and students who are first in their families to attend college.

"STEM drives our nation's innovation and competiveness, and we're concerned that the United States is falling behind in producing college graduates with degrees in these essential disciplines," said Richard D. George, president and chief executive officer of Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation & Affiliates. "That's why Great Lakes is committing $9 million to three initiatives that will help more two- and four-year college students persevere in their pursuit of STEM degrees, preparing them for in-demand, well-paying jobs."

Great Lakes is taking a comprehensive approach to address this critical issue with investments in three areas of STEM education:

  • $3.2 million to help train future STEM faculty in proven teaching and learning techniques.
  • $4 million to support academic research and inform policymaking on the role of financial aid.
  • $1.875 million in scholarships to low-income students majoring in STEM disciplines.

 

INITIATIVE ONE: TRAINING FUTURE FACULTY FOR STUDENT SUCCESS

Many talented students leave STEM fields in spite of their academic abilities. Often, an uneven quality of teaching is the most significant reason why they make the switch. The unfortunate reality is that most new STEM faculty devoted their graduate training to research, and the first time they are in front of a classroom is after they have accepted a teaching position.

The Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL) is dedicated to improving the quality of undergraduate STEM education by preparing STEM graduate students and post-doctoral fellows to become both great instructors and great researchers. This network of 22 major research universities across 16 states is training the nation's future STEM faculty in evidence-based teaching and mentoring techniques.

Great Lakes has committed $3.2 million to CIRTL to support programming at each university, as well as cross-network sharing of best practices in future faculty development. Funding begins fall 2014 and will continue through spring 2017.

CIRTL teaching strategies are based on proven research, which shows that student persistence is positively impacted when faculty promote active learning, connect classroom topics to real-world situations, promote an inclusive learning environment, encourage teamwork, and continually assess their students' learning. These practices are just a few ways to help more students from all backgrounds stay enrolled in their programs, graduate with STEM degrees, and transition to rewarding careers.

"The Great Lakes grant leverages a separate grant CIRTL received from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2013," said Dr. Robert D. Mathieu, director of the CIRTL Network, director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, and Vilas Distinguished Professor of Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "The two grants combined provide the necessary resources for us to develop a national STEM faculty committed to implementing and advancing effective teaching practices for diverse students. These future faculty are the key to improving STEM learning and persistence of all undergraduates."

A highly targeted intervention for future faculty is possible because nearly 80% of STEM doctorate degrees in the U.S. are granted at only 100 research universities. "CIRTL Network universities currently graduate about 20% of the nation's new STEM faculty each year," said George. "Our intention through investments like this is to take ideas that work to scale. We hope the 80 remaining research universities will adopt the successful CIRTL model and truly shape the future of STEM education for thousands of future faculty, and an entire generation of undergraduate students."

INITIATIVE TWO: EVALUATING THE FINANCIAL BURDEN OF A STEM DEGREE

Students who major in STEM fields often need to spend more time in labs or conducting research than other students do, and that means they have less time to devote to a part-time job while they are in college. Students from low-income households, who have to work to pay for their education, often make the difficult choice to abandon their STEM majors and switch to other programs.

Great Lakes has committed $4 million in grants to hundreds of students at 10 colleges and universities across Wisconsin. They will receive $1,000 per year for up to five years as part of an experimental study that begins this fall. "Our grants will allow students at both two- and four-year colleges to focus on their studies instead of a salary, and we hope that will make it easier for them to complete their STEM majors," said George.

Funding for the research portion of the study is provided by the National Science Foundation. Researchers at the Wisconsin HOPE Lab, housed at UW-Madison, will determine if this need-based financial aid helps undergraduates stay enrolled in college and successfully complete associate's or bachelor's degrees, particularly in STEM fields.

"Policymakers and practitioners need to know how and why grant aid contributes to critical workforce needs, such as those in STEM fields," said Dr. Sara Goldrick-Rab, founding director of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab. "Thanks to the support from Great Lakes, the HOPE Lab has the opportunity to generate rigorous empirical evidence to provide that information while also supporting students across the state."

INITIATIVE THREE: SCHOLARSHIP SUPPORT FOR STEM STUDENTS

To support college students across the country, Great Lakes recently awarded $1.875 million in scholarships to low-income students majoring in STEM disciplines. From a pool of nearly 18,000 applicants, 750 students at 400 colleges each received $2,500 this fall through the Great Lakes National Scholarship Program.

"Now in the third year of our scholarship program, we have provided more than $5.6 million to STEM majors across the country," George said. "We're fortunate to see the positive difference that higher education makes in lives every day, and we're pleased to continue our scholarship commitment to help these ambitious students advance their careers."

To stay informed about these STEM initiatives and future grant opportunities from Great Lakes, visit community.mygreatlakes.org and sign up for the philanthropy newsletter.

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