FACTORS AFFECTING THE ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT AND PERSISTENCE OF QUOTA STUDENTS IN STEM: A CASE STUDY OF A PUBLIC UNIVERSITY IN BRAZIL
Childs, Porsha Yasmin
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In order to maintain competitiveness in the global economy nations around the world are heavily investing in access to higher education and more specifically the production of skilled workers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Whereas upper social-class majority males have traditionally dominated this field, the expansion of university enrollments as well as the presence of rapidly growing minority populations signals a shift in which a larger number of minorities and women will add to the STEM talent pool. To date, much of the research on underrepresented minorities in STEM has focused on women and underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities in universities in the U.S. (Espinoza & Cole, 2008; Museus et al., 2011; St. John & Musoba, 2011). Few studies have focused on the persistence and academic achievement of underrepresented minorities in countries and institutions outside of the Unites States and none have specifically targeted minority students who are beneficiaries of affirmative action policies. The current study seeks to explore factors that affect the academic performance and persistence of quota students majoring in STEM fields in a public university in Brazil. The major research questions guiding this study were: (1) In what ways do institutional factors affect quota student persistence and academic performance in STEM fields? (2) To what extent does campus climate affect the academic performance of quota students in STEM fields? (3)What barriers (major academic, social, and financial concerns) do quota students in STEM fields face after admission and how do student and faculty perceptions of these barriers differ? (4) What institutional services are available to support quota STEM students and which of these services do STEM students use most frequently? Using qualitative methods and an ethnographic case study design, semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten undergraduate quota students, two graduate students, and six university personnel. In addition, the researcher observed students on campus, both in and out of class. Additional observations were made of location students frequented such as the residence hall, library, campus restaurants, and the physics, chemistry, and engineering buildings. Findings revealed four broad themes: pre-college experiences, college experiences, college outcomes, and barriers to graduation and institutional responses. Participants indicated that their pre-college academic experiences had the largest effect on their academic achievement and persistence. Quota students in STEM disciplines routinely reported having failed their core math and science courses during the first year and experiencing difficulty with others as they matriculate. This was largely attributed to the fact that they entered with a lack of a strong academic base. Additional barriers students faced were lack of finances, and a lack of family support and cultural capital. While the university has implemented various financial supports to address quota students’ needs, they lack structured academic supports such as bridge programs, supplemental instruction, and tutoring.