Social & Education Policy

A social-belonging intervention improves STEM outcomes for students who speak English as a second language

LaCosse, J.; Canning, E.A.; Bowman, N.A.; Murphy, M.C.; Logel, C.


Students who speak English as a second language (ESL) are underserved and underrepresented in postsecondary science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. To date, most existing research with ESL students in higher education is qualitative. Drawing from this important body of work, we investigate the impact of a social-belonging intervention on anticipated changes in belonging, STEM GPA, and proportion of STEM credits obtained in students’ first semester and first year of college. Using data from more than 12,000 STEM-interested students at 19 universities, results revealed that the intervention increased ESL students’ anticipated sense of belonging and three of the four academic outcomes. Moreover, anticipated changes in belonging mediated the intervention’s effects on these academic outcomes. Robustness checks revealed that ESL effects persisted even when controlling for other identities correlated with ESL status. Overall, results suggest that anticipated belonging is an understudied barrier to creating a multilingual and diverse STEM workforce.