Research in Higher Education

, Volume 54, Issue 6, pp 664–692 | Cite as

Modeling Entrance into STEM Fields of Study Among Students Beginning at Community Colleges and Four-Year Institutions

  • Xueli Wang


In this study, a theoretical model is tested to examine factors shaping the decision to pursue STEM fields of study among students entering community colleges and four-year institutions, based on a nationally representative sample of high school graduates from 2004. Applying the social cognitive career theory and multi-group structural equation modeling analysis, this research highlights a number of findings that may point to specific points of intervention along students’ educational pathway into STEM. This study also reveals important heterogeneity in the effects of high school and postsecondary variables based on where students start their postsecondary education: community colleges or four-year institutions. For example, while high school exposure to math and science courses appears to be a strong influence on four-year beginners’ STEM interest, its impact on community college beginners’ STEM interest, albeit being positive, is much smaller. In addition, college academic integration and financial aid receipt exhibit differential effects on STEM entrance, accruing more to four-year college students and less to those starting at community colleges.


Community college students STEM education Choice of major Social cognitive career theory Multi-group structural equation modeling 



This material is based upon work supported by the Association for Institutional Research, the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Science Foundation, and the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative under Association for Institutional Research Grant Number RG11-07. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Association for Institutional Research, the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Science Foundation or the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative. I thank Kelly Wickersham, Hsun-yu Chan, and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable and insightful feedback.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Educational Leadership and Policy AnalysisUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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