Should I Stay or Should I Go? Persistence in Postsecondary Mathematics Coursework

Forster D. Ntow, Lesa M. Covington Clarkson, Sousada Chidthachack, Elizabeth A. Crotty


This paper draws on self-determination theory (SDT) to explore reasons for college students’ decisions to either continue or change directions (and hence their persistence) from their STEM-intending majors. We therefore sought to gain insight into why some college students persisted in their STEM-intending degree programs while others, faced with the same challenge(s), changed majors. Using a phenomenological design, three students were purposefully selected and interviewed using a semi-structured interview guide. A finding from this study is that while challenges are a part of life, individual responses to academic challenges vary depending on how they judge the situation. For the three focal students, decisions about whether to persist in their STEM-intending degree programs involved a complex mix of factors. These were whether they found the challenge worthwhile (i.e., perception of autonomy), had a desire to engage in the STEM program because they found the program worthwhile (i.e., perception of competency) or had adequate support systems available (i.e., perception of relatedness). Implications for university authorities and college professors are highlighted.


Mathematics Teaching; Self-determination Theory; Support Systems; Resilience

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