This project is designed to apply grass-roots expertise and strong, continuous evaluation to solve two persistent problems in STEM education: student attrition and institutional inertia. Attrition is steepest at entry, particularly for the students historically underserved by present educational practice: ethnic minorities, those who are eligible for financial aid, and those whose parents didn’t attend college. As reported in 2012 by the President’s Council of Advisors for Science and Technology (PCAST), most of the students who leave STEM majors do so in the first two years, and while in good academic standing:

“In the United States, fewer than 40% of the students who enter college with the intention of majoring in a STEM field complete a STEM degree. Most of the students who leave STEM fields switch to non-STEM majors after taking introductory science, math, and engineering courses. Many of the students who leave STEM majors are capable of the work, making the retention of students who express initial interest in STEM subjects an excellent group from which to draw some of the additional one million STEM graduates. Many students who transfer out of STEM majors perform well, but they describe the teaching methods and atmosphere in introductory STEM classes as ineffective and uninspiring.”

The same national patterns identified by PCAST appear in the CSU. Fewer than a third of the students who entered the CSU in Fall 2005 declaring majors in STEM had earned STEM degrees six years later. For students from under-represented minority groups (URM: Native American, African American, and Latino) the six-year STEM graduation rate is half that, or 17%. That is, of every six of these students who want STEM degrees, only one will make it. Degree completion rates for other at-risk and differentially-abled groups – even by gender in some STEM disciplines – are similarly disappointing.

Related to the chronic attrition problem is one of institutional inertia. CSU faculty members have worked for decades to improve delivery of STEM education, with repeated concentration on gateway courses in particular. At the same time, CSU universities are national leaders in proven interventions like summer bridge and first-year experiences.

Yet these innovations have defied integration and systemization at scale. Instead they survive on grant money and the goodwill of individual faculty and administrators, making them vulnerable to economic downturns, staffing turnover, or sheer fatigue.

The premise of this project is that the CSU already has all the incoming students and pedagogical evidence that it needs to provide California with an ample and diverse supply of STEM graduates. What’s missing is a new conception of the status quo, with sustained faculty and professional development and other administrative structures that build engaging, evidence-based practices into curriculum, policy, the business model, and day-to-day practice, so that our best work is offered consistently, systematically, and reliably.


Project Funding

The CSU STEM Collaboratives project is funded through a $4.6 million grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. Sub-grants directly to each of the 8 CSU campus project sites fund projects for 30 months to provide a comprehensive and integrated first-year experience to students in STEM fields.

More Information

Please visit the CSU STEM Collaboratives project website for more information: