AUGUST 31, 2020 — As a new semester starts for many college students around the U.S., a new national study, funded by the National Science Foundation, is identifying how the COVID-19 pandemic affected student learning and faculty work in in STEM fields.
The Challenges and Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic, a collaborative study between UTSA, University of Kansas and Claremont Graduate University, surveyed about 1,087 STEM faculty and 4,603 STEM students in June from around the U.S about the effects COVID-19 has had on their mentorships, research, academic careers and mental health.
The projects’ first report, released in July, which focused on fall enrollment and delayed graduation, found that nearly 10% of STEM students had not decided or would not enroll in fall 2020 due to the pandemic, while 35.5% of doctoral STEM students, 18% of master’s students and 7.6% of undergraduate students delayed their graduation.
Among the delayed graduations, there was a racial difference between Hispanic and Black students, Uriel Lomelí-Carrillo, a coauthor of the report and a doctoral student in UTSA’s Department of Demography, said.
“Almost 13% of Hispanic and 10.3% of Black students reported delaying their graduation, whereas only about 6% of Asians and whites did,” Lomelí-Carrillo said.
Additionally, Lomelí-Carrillo added that the research found two major personal factors—financial and health concerns—to be the reasons affecting fall enrollment and delayed graduation status.
“Almost 40% of students who will not enroll in fall 2020 were because they were uncertain of the financial support in the fall semester,” Lomelí-Carrillo said. “Many of them are basing it off their health as well as on whether they’re going to go back to the institutions. We also found that the majority of the students prefer an approach to have a mix of face-to-face and online instruction.”
For those who are delaying graduation, it’s due to restricted access to academic facilities and resources and delayed coursework or degree required projects, Lomelí-Carrillo said.
“The results obtained are being rapidly analyzed and presented because it is timely valuable information to inform students, faculty and leaders in STEM programs in particular and in higher education institutions in general,” Lomelí-Carrillo said. “We are confident that the evidence can help universities to target their resources to better support students and identify and address the main concerns of students.”
While the first report focused on enrollment and graduation, a second report highlighted the gender disparities in remote learning for STEM students and faculty.
“Considering that the fall semester has already started, it would be good to point out some of the challenges that faculty and students face in this shift to remote teaching and learning,” Lomelí-Carrillo said. “For instance, among STEM faculty, the top two challenges in adapting course design to remote learning were ‘personal preference is for in-person learning’ and ‘uncertain about online assessment.’”
Compared to their male counterparts, female faculty reported having more challenges with “having limited personal time to effectively adapt” and “course activities not translating well to online,” Lomelí-Carrillo said.
“Among STEM students, the top two learning challenges in transitioning to remote learning were ‘difficulty focusing on remote instruction/activities’ and ‘personal motivation to complete coursework’ and compared with their male peers, female students generally reported more learning challenges in transitioning to remote learning,” he said.
⇒ Learn more about The Challenges and Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The Challenges and Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic study was conducted with support from a $153,899 Rapid Response Research grant from the NSF, using funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The researchers behind the project consisted of Lomelí-Carrillo, Guan Saw, a former UTSA assistant professor now at Claremont Graduate University, Chi-Ni Chang of the University of Kansas and Mingxia Zhi of Northside ISD.
The researchers plan to release a third report on the mentoring experience and a fourth report on mental health of students and faculty during COVID-19 pandemic.
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