Paths to scientific literacy: Comparing college graduates' science traits with course -taking patterns

Deborah Shira Marcus, University of Pennsylvania


Support for scientific literacy ranges from people touting the national economic benefits of a scientifically literate citizenship to personal fulfillment from a complex field of academic rigor. Even though scientific literacy is a professed outcome of many universities' curricular guidelines, few institutions assess whether their required classes produce scientifically literate graduates. After reviewing the history of scientific literacy efforts in the United States and the few analytical tools in use, this project sought to clarify the connection between courses taken and scientific literacy educational outcomes. To accomplish this task, the responses to the National Center for Postsecondary Improvement's (NCPI) 1997 survey of 1360 students as five-year out alumni/alumnae from fifteen different colleges were compared with their respective college transcripts. The NCPI survey included inquiries into students' preparedness for a range of real-life scenarios, as well as value ratings and usage level of multiple skills and abilities. The output source also contained information on student demographics. Possible links between postsecondary education experiences and survey results were analyzed. Overall, science related outcomes improved as students took a greater number, level, and spread of science courses. The connections were strongest for level and spread of courses. However, the same inputs that had positive associations with science items had negative effects of varying magnitudes with other valued traits such as ethics and political involvement. The main result, that of recommendations for number, level, and spread of science classes that lead toward scientific literacy, is useful in many ways. Most directly, outcomes may guide colleges when designing general education requirements that effectively lead to scientifically literate graduates. More generally, the conclusions are useful for students planning their educational route and for teachers deciding which fields to emphasize. External to individual colleges, the information helps people trying to become or create more scientifically literate individuals in today's society. Consequently, the conclusions may benefit all those who view collegiate education as a potent tool for increasing scientific literacy.

Subject Area

Higher education|Science education|Curricula|Teaching

Recommended Citation

Marcus, Deborah Shira, "Paths to scientific literacy: Comparing college graduates' science traits with course -taking patterns" (2004). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3138051.