Program overview

  • Increasing STEM degree attainment: STEM summer programs are educational pipeline programs, which typically target middle and high school students who have limited access to STEM learning opportunities. These programs increase the selectivity of the colleges that enrollees choose to attend, their college graduation rates, and the rate at which they pursue STEM majors.

  • Creating summer learning opportunities: STEM summer programs are typically operated by post-secondary institutions or education- or STEM-focused nonprofit org government agencies. Such programs are typically free for students and funded by either the host institution or through a philanthropic or government grant. Programs typically range from one to six weeks and may be offered in-person or virtually.

  • Identifying high-achieving students: Program sponsors may publicize their STEM programs by using direct mailings and outreach to the local community. Another approach is to identify students who have performed well on the PSAT, a standardized exam taken by certain high schoolers in their junior year.

  • Offering STEM content and college counseling: STEM summer programs typically offer condensed coursework in science and engineering subjects. This coursework may borrow from existing college-level STEM classes, but is adapted for the student population. Programs may also include a college counseling component, which aims to assist participants in identifying and preparing applications for post-secondary STEM programs.

A single study with a rigorous design provides some evidence for STEM summer programs as a strategy for increasing STEM degrees and graduation rates.

  • A 2022 randomized controlled trial found that students who enrolled in a six-week, in-person STEM summer program were 17 percentage points more likely to attend a competitive college, 8 percentage points more likely to graduate within four years, and 13 percentage points more likely to choose a STEM degree.
  • Target summer program recruitment efforts: STEM summer programs are an effective mechanism for increasing a students’ awareness of both STEM content and post-secondary opportunities. Sponsoring institutions should work with high school guidance counselors to identify and actively recruit high-achieving students who have limited access to STEM learning opportunities. Partnering with existing community-based organizations is another strategy to ensure a diverse pipeline of participants.

  • Ensure program includes college application information: STEM summer programs aim not only to introduce students to STEM fields, but to better prepare them to apply to and enroll in STEM educational programs and higher-resourced institutions. As such, program curricula should include information about college application processes, financial aid, available majors or other educational pathways, and more.

  • Prioritize in-person programs: Existing research indicates that in-person programming may be more impactful than virtual programs. As such, sponsoring institutions should prioritize in-person STEM summer programs when possible. However, virtual programs have still shown to have positive effects, and should be considered when an in-person program is not feasible.

  • Advertise universities with supportive STEM environments: Multiple papers have found evidence of a leaky pipeline in STEM, where students enter college intending to pursue a STEM degree but do not complete the degree. STEM summer programs should develop relationships with student success programs at colleges and universities, so that they are able to make referrals to such programs.