Diverse Classrooms in College STEM Courses Improve Learning Outcomes for All Students

Students achieve better grades in college science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses when those classrooms have higher numbers of underrepresented racial-minority and first-generation college students, according to new research published by the American Educational Research Association.

While this link holds true for all students, it is even stronger for students who are underrepresented racial minorities (URMs) and the first in their family to attend college. The authors found that in STEM courses with higher URM representation, the gap in grades between URM and non-URM students dropped by 27 percent. More impressive, the grade disparity between first-generation and continuing-generation students dropped by 56 percent in STEM courses with high first-generation representation.

“It’s really notable that improving racial and socioeconomic representation leads to benefits for everyone and reduces inequities at the same time,” said study coauthor Nicholas Bowman, a professor of educational policy and leadership studies at the University of Iowa. “It is not a zero-sum game.”

Professor Bowman added that “it is critical that colleges and universities redouble their efforts to create learning environments that have substantial diversity. This is especially true in the STEM fields, where there are long-existing equity gaps. The consistency of results across student and course characteristics drives home the importance of our results. Despite the presence of long-standing systemic inequities, policies that promote college access for URM and first-generation students can make a difference when it comes to improving learning outcomes.”

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