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Study Calls For More Minorities In The Sciences

 WASHINGTON -- National efforts to strengthen U.S. science and engineering must include all Americans, especially minorities, who are the fastest growing groups of the U.S. population but the most underrepresented in science and technology careers, says a new reportfrom the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine.  Minority participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education at all levels should be an urgent national priority, says the report, which offers a comprehensive road map for increasing involvement of underrepresented minorities and improving the quality of their education.

 

"It's well-documented that the United States needs a strong science and technology work force to maintain global leadership and competitiveness," said Freeman Hrabowski III, chair of the committee that wrote the report and president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.  "The minds and talents of underrepresented minorities are a great, untapped resource that the nation can no longer afford to squander.  Improving STEM education of our diverse citizenry will strengthen the science and engineering work force and boost the U.S. economy."   

 

The U.S. labor market is projected to grow faster in science and engineering than in any other sector in the coming years.  However, non-U.S. citizens, particularly those from India and China, have accounted for almost all growth in STEM doctorates awarded, and a number of science and engineering disciplines are heavily populated by international students.  Relying on these students to fulfill U.S. science and technology needs is becoming "increasingly uncertain" for many reasons, the congressionally mandated report says, including stricter visa requirements and the possibility that students will return to their countries of origin after completing their education.

 

Underrepresented minorities -- including African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans -- comprised just over 9 percent of minority college-educated Americans in science and engineering occupations in 2006, the report notes.  This number would need to triple to match the share of minorities in the U.S. population.  And to reach a national target that 10 percent of all 24-year-olds hold an undergraduate degree in science or engineering disciplines, the number of underrepresented minorities would need to quadruple or even quintuple. 

 

The report's recommendations build upon RISING ABOVE THE GATHERING STORM, a landmark 2005 publication from the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine that urged improvements in STEM education at all levels as part of a larger plan to sustain U.S. scientific and technological leadership.  To be successful, the new report says, these efforts must include an ongoing, comprehensive approach to encourage underrepresented minorities to pursue science and engineering degrees.  In the short term, the nation should work to double the number of those who receive undergraduate STEM degrees, a goal that is "a reasonable and attainable down payment on a longer-term effort to achieve greater parity overall."  Studies show that minorities major in STEM at the same rate as do other groups but are more likely not to complete degrees or to change majors. 

 

To reach this goal, higher education institutions should create programs that provide underrepresented minority students in STEM with strong financial, academic, and social support.  Financial support will allow them to complete their degrees and better prepare for the work force or graduate school.  The committee estimated that such programs would cost approximately $150 million annually, eventually rising to about $600 million per year as more students are included. 

 

In addition, K-12 STEM teachers need better preparation, and high school programs should emphasize college readiness, the report says.  Few students who require remedial courses beyond high school complete undergraduate degrees in STEM, the report says. Secondary school programs that guarantee students have access to advanced courses and proper academic advising would ensure underrepresented minorities are fully prepared for college and improve graduation rates.  The federal government, industry, and post-secondary institutions should work collaboratively with K-12 schools and school systems to increase minority access to and demand for post-secondary STEM education and technical training. 

 

Long-term actions recommended in the report include offering stronger programs that develop reading, mathematics skills, and creativity in preschool through third grade, and improving the quality of K-12 mathematics and science education for underrepresented minorities.

 

The challenge of increasing underrepresented minority participation and success in STEM is so substantial that it requires commitment from every type and size of learning institution -- from community colleges to large state schools, and from predominantly white institutions to those that historically serve minorities, the report says.  All of these institutions should be held accountable, and efforts should focus not only on increasing the number of minorities in STEM but also on the quality of the education they receive. 

 

Leadership is key to successful implementation of minority recruitment and retention programs and is required from all stakeholders, including government agencies, employers, and professional societies.  At institutions of higher education, regents, trustees, presidents, provosts, deans, and department chairs must make minority participation a commitment both in the institutional mission and in everyday affairs.  In addition, leaders must be more aggressive in ensuring that underrepresented minority teachers, faculty, and administrators are able to serve as role models and leaders.



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