Reducing achievement gaps in undergraduate general chemistry could lift underrepresented students into a “hyperpersistent zone”

Science Advances / June 2020

Yakima student

Students from underrepresented groups start college with the same level of interest in STEM majors as their peers, but leave STEM at higher rates. We tested the hypothesis that low grades in general chemistry contribute to this “weeding,” using records from 25,768 students. In the first course of a general chemistry series, grade gaps based on binary gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and family education background ranged from 0.12 to 0.54 on a four-point scale. Gaps persisted when the analysis controlled for academic preparation, indicating that students from underrepresented groups underperformed relative to their capability. Underrepresented students were less likely than well-represented peers to persist in chemistry if they performed below a C−, but more likely to persist if they got a C or better. This “hyperpersistent zone” suggests that reducing achievement gaps could have a disproportionately large impact on efforts to achieve equity in STEM majors and professions.