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First impressions in the classroom: How do class characteristics affect student grades and majors?

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  • Griffith, Amanda L.
  • Main, Joyce B.

Abstract

Understanding how peers and instructors can impact students’ outcomes and choice of major after taking the first class in the field is important for promoting persistence in STEM fields. This paper uses data on first-year engineering students at a large, selective engineering school to investigate how peer gender, race, and ability, as well as instructor gender, can impact grades and persistence in engineering. Our findings indicate that gender diversity in the classroom improves all students’ propensity to continue in engineering, and an increase in underrepresented minorities improves grades for minority students. Peer ability also has a strong impact, with an increase in lower-ability students pulling down achievement and persistence in engineering of the bottom of the ability distribution, and an increase in high-ability students improving achievement for all. Finally, our results suggest students benefit from a more diverse ability grouping of their peers in the classroom. We find some evidence that male students are more sensitive to peer ability than are female students.

Suggested Citation

  • Griffith, Amanda L. & Main, Joyce B., 2019. "First impressions in the classroom: How do class characteristics affect student grades and majors?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 69(C), pages 125-137.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecoedu:v:69:y:2019:i:c:p:125-137
    DOI: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2019.02.001
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    2. Delaney, Judith M. & Devereux, Paul J., 2021. "Gender differences in college applications: Aspiration and risk management," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 80(C).
    3. Arpita Patnaik & Matthew J. Wiswall & Basit Zafar, 2020. "College Majors," NBER Working Papers 27645, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Insler, Michael & Rahman, Ahmed S. & Smith, Katherine, 2021. "Tracking the Herd with a Shotgun — Why Do Peers Influence College Major Selection?," IZA Discussion Papers 14412, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    5. Kugler, Adriana D. & Tinsley, Catherine H. & Ukhaneva, Olga, 2021. "Choice of majors: are women really different from men?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 81(C).

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    STEM persistence; Major choice; Peer effects;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • I21 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Analysis of Education

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