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You Were Once a Science Major, Too?
The Times had a story the other day on the attrition of science-loving students at universities — Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard):
The excitement [of studying science in high school] quickly fades as students brush up against the reality of what David E. Goldberg, an emeritus engineering professor, calls “the math-science death march.” Freshmen in college wade through a blizzard of calculus, physics and chemistry in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. And then many wash out.
Studies have found that roughly 40 percent of students planning engineering and science majors end up switching to other subjects or failing to get any degree. That increases to as much as 60 percent when pre-medical students, who typically have the strongest SAT scores and high school science preparation, are included, according to new data from the University of California at Los Angeles. That is twice the combined attrition rate of all other majors.[Emphasis added]
I wondered how Dartmouth did in this area. Not well, it turns out. Although anywhere from 41-44% of incoming freshmen over the past few years have hoped to major in one of the sciences:
only 20% end up doing so (a figure that includes double majors), down from 26% a decade ago:
A third of the refugees go to the Humanities and the remainder to the Social Sciences.
In objective terms, this situation is a crisis. At the very least, it an area where Dartmouth could do a much better job, and an innovative one at that. But, as with so many other parts of the College, the word from faculty members is that efforts at reforming the curriculum in any way, or in developing non-standard courses, have met the usual response from Lord Foltemort: “we have no money” (translation: “I am afraid to try anything new!”).
Addendum: An example of an interesting, hands-on science course, even though it is destined for non-majors is ENGS 8: Materials in Sports Equipment. This offering will be Professor Rachel Obbard’s first solo course.
Addendum: An acute observer of the College’s affairs shares her thoughts:
What the Times omitted is the pernicious effect of premed. Because biology, chemistry and mathematics all have compulsory enrollments through premed, they have no incentive to improve their teaching. They also favor large, impersonal classes. Of course they give lower grades: the students flock in any case, and they justify their role as pre-selectors for medicine. The whole thing has badly damaged collegiate science education in this country.
October 18, 2009
When Love Beckoned in 52nd Street
We were at San Francisco’s BIX last evening, enjoying prosecco, cheese, and a bit of music. A full year of inhabitation in Northern California has unraveled to me no decent venue for proper lounging, but…
October 9, 2009
D Afraid of a Little Competish
So our colleague and Dartblog writer Joe Asch informed me that the D has rejected our cunning advertising campaign. Uh-oh. The Dartmouth is widely known as a breeding ground for instant New York Times successes,…
September 4, 2009
How Regents Should Reign
As Dartmouth alumni proceed through the legal hoops necessary to defuse a Board-packing plan—which put in unhappy desuetude an historic 1891 Agreement between alumni and the College guaranteeing a half-democratically-elected Board of Trustees—it strikes one…
August 29, 2009
Election Reform Study Committee
If you are an alum of the College on the Hill, you may have received a number of e-mails of late beseeching your input for a new arm of the College’s Alumni Control Apparatus called…
August 23, 2009
Fare Thee Well, Tom Crady
And now Dean Tom Crady has precipitously announced his departure from the College after only 20 months on the job. How to read this? By way of background, prior to coming to Dartmouth, Crady had…
May 31, 2009
Kangaroo Court, Indeed
In an interview with The Dartmouth, alumni-elected trustee T.J. Rodgers ‘70 explained his reasons for declining to participate in future evaluations of trustees up for “re-election,” namely the “kangaroo court” nature of such discussion in…