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Report: STEM Gap Widens for Underrepresented Minorities

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It probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise to our readers, but research released this month shows an expanding ethnicity gap for Americans pursuing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. A new report from the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) reveals that the number minority students pursuing STEM degrees and careers has flattened out or even declined in recent years.

The study, "Confronting the 'New' American Dilemma, Underrepresented Minorities in Engineering: A Data-Based Look at Diversity," was funded by the Motorola Foundation, authored by the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology (CPST), and supported by the National Science Foundation. It calls on policymakers, businesses, and educators in K-12 and higher education to adopt "genuinely high expectations for our young students of color, [remove] systemic barriers to underrepresented minorities' participation in college, [develop] a national STEM workforce development policy, and [form] business partnerships that promote untapped populations."

Among the findings in the report is that the percentage of bachelor's degrees in engineering awarded to black students declined significantly from 1995 to 2005, from 3.3 percent to 2.5 percent. It also found that while three key underrepresented minority (URM) groups--African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans--constitute some 30 percent of the overall undergraduate student population in the United States, they receive only about 12 percent of the degrees awarded in engineering.

"We must look out for America's strength in the global economy, and to do that, we must encourage untapped resources into the STEM pipeline," said United States Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson in a statement issued to coincide with the release of the NACME report. "So many of our minority youth are not prepared to take on jobs in critical science and engineering fields, and this is a problem Congress can--and must--address. I commend NACME for working toward a more diverse and competitive engineering workforce, and I support them in their efforts."

Other findings from the study include:

  • Of the 68,000 bachelor's degrees in engineering awarded in the United States in 2006, only 8,500 were awarded to under-represented minorities;
  • Of 6,404 doctoral degrees in engineering awarded in 2006, 100 went to African American students; 98 went to Latinos and Latinas; and nine went to Native Americans and Alaska Natives;
  • Of these doctoral degree recipients, 55 were women;
  • Women of all ethnic backgrounds account for less than 20 percent of the engineering degree recipients at every level;
  • Some 1.5 million engineers with bachelor's degrees are employed in the United States, but only 9.5 percent of these are women;
  • Of all the states, only Maine had a positive gap (0.8 points), indicating that the percent of engineering bachelor's degree-receiving URMs was higher in 2006 than the percentage they represented in the state's population;
  • The worst gap for a state (-30.6 points) was in California, where URMs constituted 43.7 percent of the population but received only 13.1 percent of the engineering bachelor's degrees awarded in 2006. (The District of Columbia had a slightly worse gap, at -30.7 points.)

"There is a solution to America's endangered competitiveness, and NACME is ready to work with government, education, business, and individuals of goodwill to achieve it," said Irving Pressley McPhail, NACME executive vice president and chief operating officer, in a statement released Thursday. "We must prepare and empower America's hidden workforce of young men and women who have traditionally been underrepresented in STEM careers."

NACME is holding a symposium on this topic May 27 through 29 in Virginia. Further information about the symposium, Confronting the "New" American Dilemma, can be found on the organization's Web site here. Further information about the study can be found at the CPST site here. A PDF breaking down the gap in bachelor's degrees in engineering by state can be found here.

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About the author: David Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's online education technology publications, including THE Journal and Campus Technology. He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com.

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at dnagel@1105media.com.

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