Student Pathways in STEM Majors

Towards better decision making

University of Colorado Boulder, Center for STEM Learning, Office of Information Technology, and Institutional Research

Noah Finkelstein, Daniel Reinholz, Joel Corbo, Robert Stubbs, Blake Redabaugh, Mark Werner



Retention in STEM majors is a pressing initiative on our campus and nationwide. As a first step to improving retention of majors in STEM fields, we need to better understand which students are leaving, when they are leaving, and why they are leaving. Our institution already collects a wealth of useful data about student pathways, and the goal of this project is to make such data more accessible to support better-founded, evidence-based decision-making.

Tool: Student Pathways

The student pathways tool has been developed as a collaboration of our office of Institutional Research, Office of Information Technology, and the Center for STEM Learning. This tool is developed in Tableau, a powerful platform for data visualizations. Based on the UC-Davis “ribbon-plot,” an initial suite of visualizations captures: student enrollments, grades, and routes through course sequences within a major, enrollments in a course over time, trajectories into and out of a major, and individual student outcomes. Figure 1 shows how we might select pathways associated with certain course enrollments (in the figure we show pathways into a course, but we can follow routes after a course, or look at subsets of students (e.g. “B”-students) within a course. The use of Tableau allows for permissions to be set for different users; in this way individual student records could be protected from most users, but would be made available to advisers or other campus members who need access to them for their jobs.

The university already collects all of the data used in the Student Pathways tool; this tool simply makes them more accessible. It is possible to look at subsets of students based on relevant characteristics (e.g., gender, race, major). We are currently in a prototyping phase, and working with a variety of departments on campus to establish their use cases. Three departments and a deans office are currently piloting these tools.

Evidence-based Action

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