Large gaps in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) labor market exist due to high STEM undergraduate attrition rates. I examined career search self-efficacy as a predictor of STEM major persistence in a sample of undergraduate engineering students (N = 100). Results suggested that higher career search self-efficacy scores were associated with increased odds of persisting in an engineering major. Implications for using career development theory in STEM career planning courses and future STEM undergraduate persistence research are discussed.
Keywords: career search self-efficacy, STEM career planning, persistence, retention, STEM education
Every year, gaps occur in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) labor markets (de Brey et al., 2019), perpetuated by poor postsecondary outcomes for students pursuing STEM degrees. Almost 50% of undergraduate students who begin in a STEM major do not complete their STEM bachelor's degree (Chen, 2014). These postsecondary retention rates are disproportionately lower for Black, Native American, and Latinx students and women interested in STEM fields (de Brey et al., 2019). Social factors, such as stereotype threat, racism, and an overall lack of support for underrepresented racial minorities and women, contribute to these high STEM attrition rates (Beasley & Fischer, 2012; Gasman & Nguyen, 2019). Other potential reasons students do not persist in STEM include (a) academic issues, such as harsher grading practices in STEM undergraduate programs compared with non-STEM programs (Rask, 2010); (b) students perceiving STEM coursework as being too challenging (Chen, 2015); and (c) institutional barriers that limit students' ability to take STEM coursework during their 1st year of studies. Career-related factors may also affect STEM persistence. For instance, STEM career planning courses show promise in improving STEM persistence. Belser et al. (2017) found that 1st-year undergraduate students who declared a STEM major and participated in a STEM-focused career planning course were 17.8 times more likely to stay in a STEM major for a 2nd year. Belser et al. (2018) also predicted retention of students in a STEM career planning course using the Career Thoughts Inventory. As students' negative career thoughts decreased, their odds of 2nd-year retention increased. The less distorted thinking students had surrounding their future career in STEM, the more likely they were to stay in a STEM major.
The work of Belser et al. (2017, 2018) emphasized how participating in a STEM career planning course and reducing negative career thoughts can have a positive impact on STEM undergraduate retention. However, there is a need to further build the literature that uses career development factors to predict undergraduates' persistence in STEM. Therefore, I used social cognitive career theory (SCCT) to examine the extent to which career-related self-efficacy predicts undergraduate engineering students' persistence in STEM. Lent et al. (2008) provided empirical support for using SCCT to understand STEM undergraduate students' academic goals. They analyzed data from 1,208 students majoring in computer disciplines at both predominantly White institutions and historically Black colleges and universities. The analysis revealed a statistically significant pathway from self-efficacy to outcome expectations, thus suggesting that self-efficacy is an important factor...