A Garden, Not a Leaky Pipeline

Credit: iStock.com/amenic181
Credit: iStock.com/amenic181
In recent years, student dropout rates in STEM programs have received a lot of attention. The problem is often referred as the leaky pipeline, and that is a harmful metaphor. It implies that we can “plug the holes” (Cannady et al., 2014), or worse, that if we simply increase the flow rate of students, we can compensate (Metcalf, 2010). It’s a metaphor that makes assumptions about student uniformity that are not true in any field. Our students don’t all start from the same point, they don’t flow at a constant rate, and they don’t all share the same end goal. All of us teach students who come from a diversity of backgrounds, and with dramatically different goals. We need a new metaphor. But how do we describe the challenges of higher education in a productive way, one that permits differences between students, allows us to set goals as instructors, and helps us explain our needs to students and administrators alike? What do we want for our students? We want them to grow!

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