Retention of Undergraduate Physics Majors

Version 1, January 28, 2021



Reference 1 is an extensive study of the reasons students leave STEM majors, which successful retention practices must address. References 2–5 provide case studies and overviews of the features of physics programs that are successful at recruiting and retaining students. References 6 and 7 illustrate how the culture of physics often includes assumptions that only naturally brilliant students can succeed, the problems with such assumptions, and how adopting a "growth" mindset that assumes everyone can learn physics creates a culture in which more students feel welcome pursuing physics.

  1. E. Seymour and A.-B. Hunter (editors), Talking about Leaving Revisited: Persistence, Relocation, and Loss in Undergraduate STEM Education, Springer (2019).
  2. R. C. Hilborn, R. H. Howes, and K. S. Krane (editors), “Strategic Programs for Innovations in Undergraduate Physics: Project Report” (SPIN-UP report), American Association of Physics Teachers (2003); Case studies are in Appendix VIII, pages 94–140.
  3. P. Heron, L. McNeil, et al. (editors), “Phys21: Preparing Physics Students for 21st-Century Careers,” American Physical Society (2016); Case studies are in Appendix 1, pages 52–66.
  4. B. Beckford et al., “The Time is Now: Systemic Changes for Increasing African Americans in Physics & Astronomy” (TEAM-UP report), American Institute of Physics (2020); Case studies are in Appendices 5 and 6, pages 126–149.
  5. J. Stewart, W. Oliver III, and G. Stewart, “Revitalizing an undergraduate physics program: A case study of the University of Arkansas,” American Journal of Physics, 81(12), 943–950 (2013).
  6. S.-J. Leslie, A. Cimpian, M. Meyer, and E. Freeland, “Expectations of brilliance underlie gender distributions across academic disciplines,” Science, 347(6219) 262–265 (2015).
  7. R. E. Scherr, M. Plisch, K. E. Gray, G. Potvin, and T. Hodapp, “Fixed and growth mindsets in physics graduate admissions,” Physical Review Physics Education Research 13(2), 020133 (2017).


President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, "Engage to Excel: Producing One Million Additional College Graduates with Degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics," Executive Office of the President (2012): a report outlining how to successfully recruit and retain students in STEM.