The past decades have seen an increase in the enrollment of foreign-born students in U.S. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) graduate programs. This paper investigates whether having a foreign teaching assistant (TA) in a STEM class affects the outcomes of U.S. undergraduate students. I consider both subjective outcomes (the median evaluation scores) and objective ones (the students' course outcomes). I use administrative data from a large public university where TAs are conditionally-randomly allocated to classes. I find that TAs from countries where English is not the language of instruction receive between $0.24$ and $0.52$ points lower median evaluations scores (on a five-point scale) compared to their native-born counterparts, conditional on the course type. However, being taught by a foreign TA does not have a significant impact on the students' objective course outcomes, such as grades, STEM major declaration, and STEM graduation. These findings suggest that evaluations of teaching for foreign TAs  should be used with caution as they might not be a clear reflection of teaching quality. 

Undergraduate research experience and persistence in STEM (with Margaret Levenstein and Jason Owen-Smith)

We study the impact of grant employment on undergraduate graduation rates. We use a unique dataset created by linking course-level student record data with transaction-level data on federal grant expenditures on personnel at a major public university. Our paper uses a selection on observables strategy and finds that a paid research experience on a federally funded grant increases graduation rates by 10.1 percent in STEM majors and by 5.5 percent across all fields of study. We find that the race and gender gaps are not narrowed by much and that the positive impact of grant employment is largest for male students and whites. Even though minorities and female students benefit from grant employment, the benefits are much lower across all measures used. Furthermore, we find that for students who qualify for Pell grants, working with a faculty member helps increase their graduation rates significantly. Our results indicate potential benefits to students of matriculating in more research-intensive environments and the need of higher intensity interventions to improve the representativeness of STEM population.

Gender and persistence in STEM (with Margaret Levenstein and Jason Owen-Smith)

Although women have surpassed men in college persistence, female students remain much less likely to major in STEM fields. This paper uses administrative student data from a large public university to study the effects of students' socio-demographic and academic characteristics on the necessary and weakly sequential stages to achieve a STEM degree: taking a STEM course in the first year, declaring a STEM major, and graduating with a STEM major. Using a model similar to that of Heckman and Smith (2004), we compare the STEM trajectories of male and female students and discuss the effects of different student characteristics on each stage of persistence in STEM. We find that male students are 19.8 percentage points more likely to graduate with a STEM degree. These results are driven by the male students declaring a STEM major at a higher rate than female students. As a matter of fact, once a STEM major was declared, only small differences exist in the probability of graduating in STEM between the two genders. Our findings suggest that exploring the different mechanisms affecting the differential propensities of male and female students to major in STEM could reduce the underrepresentation of women in STEM fields.

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© 2016 by Daniela Morar & Marushka Baoh