The Power of Demographic and High School Experience Factors on Geoscience Success

Suttida Rakkapao, Julie Libarkin


A growing body of literature documents that demographic and high school experience factors correlate with academic achievement in higher education. The most significant variables influencing entry-level college science success include gender, age, high school GPA, high school class, and socio-economic status variables (Hedges and Nowell, 1995; Caldas and Bankston, 1997; Sadler and Tai, 2007). Although this previous work suggests that non-cognitive variables can be used to predict success in some sciences, the geological sciences were overlooked in this prior work. This study aims to examine the relationship between demographic and high school experience factors and student understanding of geosciences, exposed by the Geoscience Concept Inventory (GCI; Libarkin and Anderson 2005). More than 2500 entry-level students from 38 colleges and universities located in 22 states of the United States completed a 19-item version of the GCI, coupled with a background form requesting gender, high school GPA, birth date, major, race, high school science experience, and highest degree of male and female parents. The results of the Pearson productmoment correlation revealed a small to medium size effect between the GCI scores and gender, high school GPA, race, female and male guardian education level, enrollment in high school physics, and institutional type. The multiple stepwise linear regression analysis indicated that gender, high school GPA, race, enrollment in high school physics, and institutional type appeared to be the best predictors for student success on the GCI. Overall, these predictors account for less than 20% of the fluctuation in GCI pre- or post-test scores, indicating that the GCI is a good measure of geoscience understanding across populations.

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