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New Research: Academic Engagement Depends on Discipline

College students studying the natural science, business and engineering are less likely to actively participate in class and display a deep interest in the subject matter as their colleagues in the arts, humanities and social sciences, says a new working paper by Dr. Steven Brint, Dr. Robert Hanneman and Allison M. Cantwell.

This does not mean that science, business and engineering students are less engaged in their studies, but they display their engagement in different ways, the paper notes.

Using the University of California’s Undergraduate Experience Survey (UCUES), a survey administered by the Student Experience in the Research University Project (SERU) to upper-division students in the University of California system, the researchers concluded that the culture of engagement in the natural sciences and engineering focuses on improvement of measurable skills through group study with the end result being a lucrative career in the work force. This approach is distinctly different from the culture of engagement among students in the arts, humanities and social sciences, who focus more on interaction, participation and interest in ideas.

The paper, “Two Cultures: Undergraduate Academic Engagement,” also found that male students and students from high socio-economic backgrounds score higher on assessments of both cultures of engagement. Students who are able to conform to the field-specific culture of engagement are more likely to aspire to attend graduate school, which puts males and students from affluent backgrounds at an advantage.

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