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

Amanda L. Griffith and Joyce B. Main

Economics of Education Review, 2019, vol. 69, issue C, 125-137

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.

Keywords: STEM persistence; Major choice; Peer effects (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: I21 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2019
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