The project will conduct a secondary analysis of large scale longitudinal survey data of students who have been followed into college to explore the types of applied engineering and computer science courses that youth take in high school, and the extent to which these courses help promote advancement toward careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The analysis will inform researchers and policy makers about the extent to which high school course taking in applied engineering influences math achievement, fields of college study, and jobs with STEM applications.

The study will analyze the study known as ELS:2002 which is a nationally representative study of 10th-graders in 2002 sponsored by NCES. A sample of approximately 14,000 students with full transcripts will be analyzed using five Math Achievement scores (10th grade) and first follow-up (12th grade). The study will provide a new descriptive overview of the STEM course taking in high school and an econometric test of the efficacy of applied math and science. They will apply multivariate, quasi-experimental regression techniques.

The results of this study will provide answers to both a theoretical and a practical question. For theory, the study will indicate the extent to which learning in non-academic courses during high school years actually create student knowledge in mathematics that will be applied later in their school and work life. For practice, the study will provide evidence for educators about the value of non-academic courses for later development. If the study finds that non-academic high school courses are as influential as academic training, then the fields of vocational education will be especially interested. If however this national study shows that only academic courses provide the requisite background in mathematics for any adult application, then the school policies might be encouraged to improve the access of all students to academic training.

Project Report

A consistent theme of education policy reform discussions – including those recently driving the implementation of the Common Core State Standards – is that schools need to improve and expand their training capacities in advanced and applied math and science. These discussions have been in part driven by an economy that is increasingly fueled by technological innovation and a corresponding demand for workers with advanced quantitative and computer skills who can test and implement solutions via the scientific method. With an expansion in the STEM economy and the growing demand for workers to fill STEM jobs, business leaders are putting pressure on – and in some cases, providing investments in – schools to recalibrate their curriculums to emphasize STEM skills and concepts that are required on the job. Our project focused on one way that high schools are helping to prepared students for future careers in STEM: providing engineering technology and computer science courses (referred to as "applied STEM coursetaking). Engineering technology courses integrate basic concepts in math and science to instruct students on the steps of the engineering process (i.e. identify the problem-design-build-test-evaluate). Examples of such courses include Fundamentals of Engineering, Surveying, Electrical Engineering, Structural Engineering, and Computer-Assisted Design/Drafting. Computer science courses, on the other hand, teach basic programming and systems functionality, with a focus on practical problem solving. They involve the design, development, support, and management of hardware, software, multimedia, and systems integration services. Examples of such ourses include Introduction to Computer Science, C++ Programming, Visual Basic Programming, and Data Processing. The primary objective of our project is to analyze the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 (ELS:2002) – a nationally representative longitudinal panel of youth – to understand how applied STEM coursetaking influences math achievement in high school, selection of STEM majors in college (for college-going youth), and entry into jobs that require STEM-related skills (for non-college bound youth). First, we learned that applied STEM courses have a statistically significant, but substantively small positive effect on math test scores. High school students who take below average-level math courses (such as basic math and pre-Algebra) benefit much more from applied STEM courses than do students who take more advanced courses (such as Trigonometry and Calculus). Second, for college-bound youth in our study we found that those who take applied STEM courses in high school are more likely than their peers to declare a STEM major in college than their peers who did not take such courses. This relationship appears to be stronger for students enrolled in four-year colleges/universities when compared with those enrolled in two-year colleges/universities. Third, for non-college bound youth in our study we found that taking applied STEM courses in high school did not improve their chances of securing a job in the STEM economy after graduation or their wages.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL)
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Finbarr Sloane
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Rand Corporation
Santa Monica
United States
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