Recent Studies Point to Key Predictors of Postsecondary STEM Success and Explore Hispanic Students’ Exposure to STEM Coursework in Texas

With Hispanic employees making up 15% of the nation’s workforce but holding only 7% of the nation’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) jobs as of 20111, important questions remain about the under-representation of Hispanic adults in high-wage STEM careers. This topic is particularly salient in Texas where Hispanic students make up 52% of the student population2; and, it’s especially pressing for the Texas Hispanic STEM Research Alliance – a collection of state, district, and regional stakeholders who share a common focus on STEM education in Texas.

In collaboration with the Texas Hispanic STEM alliance, our research team partnered with American Institutes for Research and completed two related studies, as a part of the Regional Education Laboratory Southwest.

Study of High School Behaviors and STEM Attainment

The first study explored high school behaviors (e.g., course-taking, attendance, achievement) that are associated with postsecondary STEM attainment (e.g., enrollment in a STEM major or earning a degree in a STEM field) in the hopes of identifying factors that education initiatives or interventions could target to support STEM attainment among Hispanic students.

Highlights from this study included:

  • Advanced math and science course taking, math and science standardized achievement test scores, and high school attendance were all significant predictors of postsecondary STEM success.
  • For most high school behaviors, the relationship between these predictors and STEM outcomes was not different for Hispanic students. In other words, taking a greater number of advanced math and science courses in high school was similarly predictive of greater postsecondary STEM success for both White and Hispanic students.
  • Important gender differences emerged.
    • Female students were significantly less likely than male students to declare a STEM major or to complete a STEM degree even after adjusting for differences in academic preparation. In other words, even among similarly high achieving students, with similar course patterns, female students pursued STEM majors at lower rates than male students.
    • The relationship between secondary predictors and postsecondary outcomes did differ by sex, though in complex and unsystematic ways.

You can read the full study here.

Study of Advanced Course Offerings and Completion in STEM

In the second study, we dug more deeply into one particularly important factor – advanced STEM course taking in high school – to ask two interrelated questions: how does access to advanced STEM courses vary across schools in Texas, and how does completion of these courses differ across students in Texas public high schools. Access to advanced STEM courses, and the completion of those courses, is critical, given the strong link between the completion of advanced STEM courses in high school and subsequent, positive STEM-related outcomes.

Highlights of findings from this study included:

  • There were systematic differences in access to advanced STEM courses. Predominately White, rural schools offered fewer courses, and ethnically diverse suburban and urban schools offered more advanced STEM courses.
  • Despite a high number of advanced STEM courses offered in the majority of Texas’ schools, and despite the fact that a larger proportion of the state’s Black and Hispanic students (i.e., 78%) attend schools offering the highest number of advanced STEM courses, we found that a greater proportion of White students completed three or more advanced courses in math or science, compared to Black and Hispanic students.
  • These disparities could not be explained by differences in the students’ level of academic preparation before they arrived in high school. The differences persisted even when looking only at students who achieved a particularly high performance threshold in math in 8th grade.

You can read the full study here.

Together, these studies emphasize a need to further support Hispanic students’ interest in, enrollment in, and completion of advanced math and science courses at the secondary level, as a means for increasing the numbers of Hispanic students pursuing postsecondary STEM degrees and attaining STEM jobs.

  1. Liana Christin Landivar, 2013, “Disparities in STEM Employment by Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin,” American Community Survey Reports, ACS-24, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC.
  2. Texas Education Agency. (2017). Texas Academic Performance Report 2016-17 State Performance. Austin, TX: Author. Retrieved January 5, 2018, from