Diverse STEM Classrooms Lead to Higher Grades for All Students, New Study Shows

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A recent study published in the journal AERA Open has highlighted a significant correlation between classroom diversity and improved academic performance among college STEM students.

The study, led by professor Nicholas Bowman at the University of Iowa, explored the impact of underrepresented racial minority (URM) and first-generation college student representation on grades in postsecondary STEM courses. It is the first of its kind to utilize a large, multi-institutional dataset and to focus specifically on the representation of first-generation students in the classroom.

Analyzing data from over 87,000 grades across 8,000 STEM courses at 20 institutions, the research found that higher proportions of URM and first-generation students in a class were associated with improved STEM grades for all students.

The benefits are especially impactful for URM and first-generation college students. In STEM classes with more URM representation, the grade gap decreased by 27%, and in courses with more first-generation students, the gap dropped by 56%.

“It’s really notable that improving racial and socioeconomic representation leads to benefits for everyone and reduces inequities at the same time,” said Bowman said in a press release. “It is not a zero-sum game.”

Bowman also notes the significance of the findings in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ban on race-conscious admissions in higher education.

“It is critical that colleges and universities redouble their efforts to create learning environments that have substantial diversity,” said Bowman. “This is especially true in the STEM fields, where there are long-existing equity gaps.”