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Study Finds Minorities Underrepresented in Graduate School


To broaden the participation of graduate studies among underrepresented minorities,  graduate studies programs must go beyond simply recruiting students from diverse groups and provide students with the support and resources needed to graduate,  says a new report released by the Council of Graduate Schools.

The report titled “Broadening Participation in Graduate Education” urges the federal government and the higher education community “to cultivate talent wherever it exists, particularly among underrepresented minorities.”

The CGS report reveals that minorities continue to lag their White counterparts in graduate degree attainment. Among all U.S. citizens, underrepresented groups earned just 12 percent of the total research doctorates awarded in 2006 and only 10 percent of the research doctorates awarded in STEM fields.

Considering the changing demographics of the country, without a highly educated workforce that includes a high number of minorities holding graduate degrees, there will be a shortage of talent to replenish an aging generation of scientists, professors and innovators.

“This report addresses why our nation must develop our domestic talent pool now to prepare the next generation of leaders and experts in a wide spectrum of fields,” said Debra W. Stewart, president of the Council of Graduate Schools, at a press briefing Thursday in Washington.

An important component to increasing the number of minority graduate students is working closely with minority-serving institutions, said Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C. “HBCUs play an invaluable role in preparing African-American students for graduate studies,” Hagan added.

The work doesn’t stop there, though, advocates say. Colleges and universities must also work harder to promote diversity and inclusivity at the faculty staff and administrator ranks, said John Slaughter, president and CEO of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering, at a press briefing Thursday in Washington.  

“It’s important to point out that diversity requires going beyond the composition of the students who are enrolled. It requires diversity at all levels,” Slaughter said, adding that “pipeline problems” have become a convenient excuse for the lack of diversity in the faculty ranks.

He insisted, however, that other factors, such as the difficulty minorities have in finding dissertation advisers and mentors and unwelcoming campus climates, deter minority students from pursuing a post-graduate education.

Statistics reveal that there is, indeed, a shortage of minority doctoral students for institutions to recruit from, particularly in STEM fields.

The Council of Graduate Schools 2008 report showed that, while the number of doctoral degrees in science and engineering earned by underrepresented minorities doubled in the last two decades, these degrees comprise about 10 percent of the total STEM doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens.

To improve access of minority students to graduate schools, the report offered several recommendations. Among them were organizing a national summit on investing in human capital and talent in the 21st century, creating incentives for all students to pursue a graduate program in critical fields through competitive fellowships and loan forgiveness, and increasing inclusiveness within graduate programs by providing students with the support and resources they need to graduate.

“Is it really a wonder for eight of the top 10 institutions that produce the most African-American graduates who go on to receive doctorates from this nation’s finest graduate schools are HBCUs?” asked Slaughter, adding that “Black colleges, Hispanic-serving institutions and some predominately White colleges have programs that are characterized by close relationships with faculty and students, exposure to research and the faculty way of life.”

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