Seeking STEM: The Causal Impact of Need-Based Grant Aid on Undergraduates Field of Study.

Katharine M. Broton, David B. Monaghan

July 2018

Increasing the number of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) degrees is a national priority and one way to promote the socioeconomic mobility of students from low-income families. Prior research examining why demand for STEM majors outstrips supply often points to students’ lack of academic preparation, preferences for non-STEM majors, or a lack of information. This paper draws on a randomized experiment to investigate an alternative explanation related to resource constraints. Findings indicate that university students from low-income families who were offered additional need-based grant aid were 7.87 percentage points more likely to declare a STEM major than similar peers, representing a 42% increase. There is no evidence that the grant offer influenced the share of students who declared a major; rather, it reduced the likelihood of majoring in a non-STEM field. Need-based grants thus appears to be one avenue for increasing the share of low-income students studying STEM.

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