Undergraduate STEM Achievement and Retention: Cognitive, Motivational, and Institutional Factors and Solutions

Jennifer G. Cromley, Tony Perez, Avi Kaplan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Student cognition and motivation, as well as institutional policies, determine student course grades and retention in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors. Regarding cognition, study skills relate to course grades, and grades relate to retention in STEM. Several aspects of motivation are related to both grades and retention in STEM: self-efficacy (self-confidence for completing assignments), continuing interest in learning more about the subject, and effort control (remaining focused on classes and studying). Students’ cognition and motivation are interdependent, and, furthermore, they play out in the context of multiple institutional policies, such as academic support centers, career counseling, financial aid policies, forced curving of course grades, course timing, and course registration policies. All of these interdependent factors can improve with targeted programs that complement each other. Some challenges for reform include instructor resistance to changing teaching and a lack of coordination, or even competing emphases, among university policies and resources, such as course scheduling, academic support, advising, career counseling, and financial aid.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4-11
Number of pages8
JournalPolicy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015


  • STEM achievement
  • STEM retention
  • cognition
  • institutional barriers
  • motivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Public Administration


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