Again, STEM college majors are too darn hard for kids these days

by Grace

Students are choosing the easy college majors.

… Although the number of college graduates increased about 29% between 2001 and 2009, the number graduating with engineering degrees only increased 19%, according to the most recent statistics from the U.S. Dept. of Education. The number with computer and information-sciences degrees decreased 14%. Since students typically set their majors during their sophomore year, the first class that chose their major in the midst of the recession graduated this year.

This student switched majors when she found an engineering lab project too darn hard.

To avoid getting an “incomplete” for the course, Ms. Zhou withdrew before the lab ended. Since switching majors she has earned almost straight A’s instead of the B’s and C’s she took home in engineering.

The issues:

  • … introductory courses are often difficult and abstract…
  • … high schools didn’t prepare them for the level of rigor in the introductory courses…
  • … Science classes may also require more time … math and science—though not engineering—students study on average about three hours more per week than their non-science-major counterparts.

Overall, only 45% of 2011 U.S. high-school graduates who took the ACT test were prepared for college-level math and only 30% of ACT-tested high-school graduates were ready for college-level science, according to a 2011 report by ACT Inc.

One solution is to make STEM classes easier more accessible.

Educators have tried to tackle the attrition problem with new programs that they say make engineering more accessible. In 2003, Georgia Institute of Technology split its introductory computer-science class into three separate courses. One was geared toward computer science majors, another to engineering majors, and a third to liberal arts, architecture and management majors. The liberal arts course cut down on computer-science theory in favor of practical tasks like using programming to manipulate photographs, says computer science professor Mark Guzdial. Since the switch, about 85% of students pass, he says.

I don’t understand how this information supports the point that STEM-related jobs don’t pay enough:

That may partly be because the jobs don’t pay enough to attract or retain top graduates. Science, technology, engineering and math majors who stay in a related profession had average annual earnings of $78,550 in 2009, but those who decided to go into managerial and professional positions made more than $102,000, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

What is the difference between a science grad who works in a “related profession” vs. one who is in a “professional position”?  In almost any line of work, managers and professionals earn more than other workers.

Related:  College students find that STEM majors are too darn hard

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9 Comments to “Again, STEM college majors are too darn hard for kids these days”

  1. Students may be choosing the easy majors, but they aren’t switching from STEM majors to easy majors, at least not at my school. (They are switching from hard STEM majors to easier STEM majors—expect a glut of general bio BS degrees.)

    See my analysis at

  2. The statistics I looked at were by division—well not even that, as they lumped the divisions into two categories: physical sciences and engineering vs. humanities, arts, and social sciences—C.P. Snow’s two cultures. There wasn’t much movement across that boundary—the biggest was from STEM majors to “business management” and I suspect most of that was from “technology and information management” in the School of Engineering to the easier “business management” in Economics—so not really a STEM-to-non-STEM switch.

    We have graduation rates and what major students switched from by major, but what they switched to had to be lumped (n^2 buckets for from and to would result in too small counts to be useful). I was pleased that they had split the “to” into STEM/non-STEM, since that was the statistic I was interested in.

  3. It is harder, I am currently majoring in Biochemistry. I’m taking biology and chemistry, both with labs this semester, along with English, history, and psychology. It is a LOT of studying, but I know that med school is not going to get any easier ( I plan to become a neurosurgeon). I have a test tomorrow in Biology on only three chapters, but there are a total of 300+ words to memorize, and I have a chemistry major tomorrow on 4 chapter–no formula sheet will be given and terms have to be memorized. Next semester I plan to take physics w/ lab, pre-calculus, chem 2 w/ lab, bio 2 w/lab, and English 2. When I hear STEM majors complain, I wanna smack them in the face. BTW, i’m taking all these classes at Georgia Tech on my first year

  4. Rishi – Are you a “typical” STEM student at your school, regarding the effort you put in to perform well in your major? I suspect you are. But I think STEM majors that complain are mostly doing that to let off steam, right? They’re under a lot of pressure.

  5. Rishi- you are only in pre-calc in college as a STEM major? Sorry to break it to ya bro but you are behind the curve, the physics class you will be taking will prolly be bs as well because to do real physics you need a calc background…. sorry to break it to you :(

  6. It’s only my second semester in my freshman year! I’m taking calc1 in the beginning of my sophomore year! And I tried to sign up for physics, but like you said, I didn’t have calc1. However, I will be taking it concurrently with calc1 in the beginning of my sophomore year. Also, I recently started volunteering at Grady Hospital with 27 hours a month, and I still have 4 A’s and 1 B…and the semester is almost over!

  7. Also, I know I can’t just take pre-calc, I’m not an idiot!

  8. Kudos to you, Rishi. Because I changed my major during my junior year, I took a few courses concurrently with their prerequisite courses and it was tough. Good luck!

  9. Thanks Grace! Also, what exactly are you majoring in Greg867?

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