Date of Award

Spring 5-20-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

PhD Higher Education Leadership, Management, Policy


Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Rong Chen, PhD

Committee Member

Robert Kelchen, PhD

Committee Member

Marybeth Boger, PhD


STEM, persistence, college, two-factor theory, undergraduate


This study investigated the persistence of undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors through two-factor theory. Proxies for STEM persistence factors were used as hygiene and motivator factors, which were categories of two-factor theory originally conceptualized to understand workplace determinants that extrinsically and intrinsically motivate employees. A two-block entry model was used to test multinomial regression analysis with outcomes for persisting in STEM, degree incompletion, and changing to a non-STEM major. This study also examined differential relationships of motivator factors across sex, race, and ethnicity due to underrepresentation in STEM fields. Data for this study were extracted from the Educational Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002), a nationally represented survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Among hygiene factors, the findings demonstrated that students with at least one parent with a bachelor’s degree, attending a highly selective institution, and being able to pay for at least half of tuition and fees in the first term of study predicted whether STEM students remained in college. An additional hygiene factor of faculty interaction outside the classroom was also significantly associated with remaining in a STEM major rather than switching majors. This study also found that significance of undergraduate research, first-year GPA, and total GPA predicted STEM persistence as motivator factors. An additional motivator factor, receiving mentorship, was also associated with staying in a STEM major. A test of interaction terms also demonstrated that the effect of motivator factors does not vary by sex or race/ethnicity. Recommendations are discussed in support of the consideration of fostering intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in STEM persistence policy and interventions, as well as recommendations for future research.