Strategies for recruiting representative samples of STEM student participants for studies

Maggie Fay
Senior Research Associate
Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University

Need: Describe why this project is important and what needs it fulfills.
For studies that explore how undergraduates experience interventions designed to support STEM students, it is critical to recruit a representative sample of students to learn how such interventions affect students’ college experiences, to shed light on unintended consequences and to understand mechanisms at the student level that may contribute to outcomes. This is particularly important for studies that explore the experiences of students that are underrepresented in STEM including women, Black and Latinx students. Further, as many colleges continue to offer remote coursework to students as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important for researchers to learn about effective strategies for recruiting representative samples of students using remote recruitment and data collection strategies.
In this poster, we will describe strategies used to recruit student research participants at six community colleges in three states as a part of the study titled, Evaluating the Potential of Community College Guided Pathways Reforms to Increase Undergraduate STEM Student Success (Award #1915191), the outcomes of recruitment efforts, and ongoing challenges and questions.

Guiding Question: Describe the research questions and/or practice inquiries guiding this work.
1) What strategies did researchers use to recruit a representative sample of student research participants?
2) What were the outcomes of these recruitment efforts?
3) What incentives motivated students to participate in the study?

Outcomes: Describe outcomes and any key findings or deliverables anticipated or achieved.
In collaboration with a research liaison at each of the 6 community colleges in our sample, the research team recruited a total of 84 students to participate in 45 one-on-one interviews and 17 focus groups. One-third (33%) of students interviewed identified as White, 26% identified as Black or African American, and 23% identified as Hispanic or Latinx. Black or African American and Hispanic or Latinx students in the sample were often overrepresented in comparison to the demographic composition of the colleges. Students who identified as Asian American and as two or more races were represented similarly (7% and 8% respectively) while students who identified as American Indian or Alaskan Native and Native Hawaiian were the most underrepresented in our sample (0% and 1% respectively). Within the sample, students who identified as White females made up the largest proportion (22%), followed by Black or African American females (19%) and Hispanic and Latina/x females (13%).

In addition to recruitment outcomes, we will also share factors that students reported were influential in their decision to participate in the study.

Broader Impacts: Describe the broader impacts and implications of the research.
It is important to diversify STEM pathways in colleges, and to use research to understand what interventions are effective at supporting diverse STEM undergraduates. In order for research to shed light on what interventions are effective, under what circumstances and for whom, it is critical to recruit representative samples of students into research studies and to ensure that the voices of students underrepresented in STEM are well represented in study samples. This poster provides examples of how to recruit a diverse sample of STEM community college students for qualitative research under remote recruitment and data collection conditions. These approaches can be applied by other researchers seeking to recruit a representative sample of students in a variety of institutional settings.


Amy Brown, Umika Kumar, Hana Lahr, Farzana Matin, Community College Research Center, Teachers College, Columbia University