Date of Award

Summer 6-27-2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

PhD Higher Education Leadership, Management, Policy


Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Robert Kelchen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Rong Chen, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Jospeh Stetar, Ph.D.


STEM, Retention, Graduation, GPA


The lack of student persistence in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields has been widely researched in recent years. Due to the high attrition rates in STEM fields and the shortage of STEM workers in the United States, research on STEM attrition has focused on identifying factors that cause STEM attrition and ways to increase STEM persistence. While these studies are helpful to understand STEM attrition, researchers have ignored what happens to the students who fail to persist in the STEM fields. Instead of focusing on the causes of STEM attrition, this study focused on the STEM to non-STEM major change by examining how STEM course enrollment and STEM course performance relates to various forms of academic achievement (first year retention, graduation, time to degree, cumulative GPA). The analytical sample for this study was drawn from the 2004/2009 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS:04/09) and the associated 2009 Postsecondary Education Transcript Study (PETS:09) datasets with the final sample used for analysis representing students who initially enrolled in a STEM bachelor’s degree program and changed to a non-STEM field or left the institution entirely. As such, the results were reflective of this group of students, and not all students in college in general. Results of the study revealed three general findings about the relationship between STEM course enrollment and STEM course academic performance and academic achievement. First, STEM credits attempted is negatively associated with first year retention. Each unit increase in STEM credits attempted reduced the odds of persistence past the first year. Secondly, performance in college level math, introductory laboratory science and STEM courses plays an important role in determining students’ level of academic achievement in non-STEM fields. Lastly, females reach higher levels of academic achievement after leaving the STEM fields when compared to males.