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Careers

Sexual minorities drop out of science majors at a higher rate than heterosexual students, study shows

by Andrea Widener
March 19, 2018 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 96, ISSUE 12

Diversity in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce has long been a problem, but few studies have examined how sexual minorities (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer students—LGBQ) persist in STEM fields as undergraduates. A new study by Bryce E. Hughes, an education professor at Montana State University, shows that LGBQ undergraduates are almost 10% more likely to leave science majors than their heterosexual counterparts (Sci. Adv. 2018, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao6373). Hughes examined data on over 4,000 students at 78 institutions collected by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. Students were surveyed as freshmen about their intended major and surveyed again as seniors. The low retention rate for LGBQ students persisted even when Hughes controlled for academic success and undergraduate research experience. In fact, more sexual minority students had research experience—49%—than the heterosexual student population, which had 41%. This suggests “that nonacademic factors are contributing to these decisions,” Hughes writes. Hughes did not include transgender students in the study because it focused on sexual rather than gender identity, he says.

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