Math and Physical Sciences Attrition

Visualizing who leaves and when

University of California Davis, Center for Educational Effectiveness

Catherine Uvarov, Marco Molinaro


There are many initiatives to increase the number of students with degrees in STEM fields. One way to increase the number of students with STEM degrees is to reduce the number of students who leave STEM. As a first step to reducing attrition, one must first understand who leaves and when so that interventions can target at risk populations prior to departure.


Figure 1. Field of freshmen Math and Physical Science students after 1, 2, and 6 years. Only 18% obtain degrees in Math and Physical Science fields by the 6 year mark.

Tool: Ribbon

The Ribbon Tool, developed as part of TEA, was chosen to help visualize student flows over multiple time points, with filters for student demographics. The Ribbon Tool is freely available (1). The Microsoft Windows Snipping Tool was used to grab screenshots of the visualizations since exporting of images is not currently available.

The student information data was obtained through the university registrar. The tool allows for a quick view of percentages and isolation of particular groups. Groups can be expanded to higher levels of detail. For instance, this data set has the following layers:

  1. Enrollment Status (Enrolled, Graduated, Dismissed, Left, etc.)
  2. Field (Biological Sciences, Engineering, Social Sciences, Math and Physical Sciences, etc.)
  3. Specific Major (Math, Chemistry, Physics, Undeclared, etc.)

Evidence-based Action

For more details about what evidence was collected, and actions taken, join the Tools for Evidence-based Action group on Trellis.