Science and Engineering Pathways in a Loosely Coupled System: An Analysis of Education and Career Trajectories


Funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation


This work is conducted with colleagues Lindsay Lowell, Georgetown University; Leonard Lynn, Case Western Reserve University; Daniel Kuehn, American University; Robert Lerman, Urban Institute and American University.


Project Goal


The analysis will significantly advance our understanding of science and engineering (S&E) students’ pathways from college through early-stage careers using newly available, in-depth longitudinal data and fieldwork. It will provide a more accurate assessment of the S&E content of students’ education, and analysis of varied pathways pursued by S&E students, different demographic groups (underrepresented minorities, women), and fields (e.g., engineering).




Analysis of newly released longitudinal data will provide the depth and breadth necessary to classify and explain students’ varied college behaviors/S&E course taking and initial employment experiences. By combing in-depth fieldwork with new quantitative analysis, we will provide a more nuanced analysis of S&E education and careers and a more accurate assessment of how students develop and apply their S&E education. Additionally, collaboration with the Sloan-funded project on Database Privacy (DP) will be an applied test of the reliability of their methods in replicating the analysis using restricted data. (The DP analysis is being conducted in collaboration with the Sloan Foundation-funded project, conducted by Cynthia Dwork, Microsoft Research, Silicon Valley and John Mitchell, Department of Computer Science, Stanford University.


Proposed Activities


Baccalaureate and Beyond (B&B) is the core dataset for the analysis. At the same time, we will conduct interviews with students, faculty, administrators, and counselors iteratively with the data analysis. Using this integrated approach, we will first develop the analytic typologies and then test and triangulate the quantitative findings. We will classify college pathways (cluster analysis, trajectory analysis), describe differences in outcomes, test for differential impacts using propensity matching, and examine the relationships between a rich set of factors on parental background, S&E preparation, wage differentials, and course taking and differential impacts and outcomes for women and minorities.


Expected Outcomes


The academic contribution of the project will be to provide a nuanced characterization of S&E pathways and produce new knowledge on how educational decisions signal student intent and preparation for S&E careers. In turn, the results will tell us much about the contested belief that S&E education is either “diverted” into non-S&E jobs or whether some S&E education (without an S&E degree) contributes to productive careers. The project will yield new evidence on the robustness of the S&E pathways, concerns about which fuel the ongoing, often heated, policy debate, as well as provide new tools for on-the-ground pedagogy and career counseling.


For further information, contact: Hal Salzman