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SEF Report Finds Black Colleges Helping Meet Nation’s Science Imperatives

SEF Report Finds Black Colleges Helping Meet Nation’s Science Imperatives 


Black colleges in the South are producing close to one-fourth of the entire nation’s African-American college graduates in the sciences at a time of a rising shortage of scientists and science professionals in the United States, according to a report released by the Southern Education Foundation (SEF).

The report, “Igniting Potential,” finds that Black colleges are playing an even larger role in some areas of study. The publication notes, for example, that almost 40 percent of all African-Americans earning bachelor degrees in the natural sciences in 2000 graduated from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

The SEF report highlights the role of Black colleges in meeting the nation’s imperative to increase and diversify science professionals. According to the report, America is experiencing a declining number of bachelor degrees awarded in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), including a 22 percent decline in computer science degrees during the 1990s. This trend makes it especially important to attract America’s minority youth, the fastest growing college-eligible population, to the sciences in order to meet the growing shortage.

“In almost every STEM field, HBCUs are ahead of the nation’s larger, wealthier, and traditionally White colleges in producing graduates” to diversify and enlarge the nation’s science professionals, SEF finds, despite the fact that HBCUs receive less than two percent of federal support to higher education institutions for support of science and engineering programs. According to the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, today there are 105 HBCUs.

SEF’s 36-page report also provides data about the creative ways in which HBCUs are working to enhance the number of students in the STEM fields and features brief portraits of STEM graduate students who earned their bachelor degrees from one of six HBCUs: Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, Morgan State University, Spelman College, Tennessee State University, and Xavier University.

“These schools show why Black colleges remain a vital part of America’s higher education and set a standard for how colleges and universities of all kinds can help prepare African-American students to enter the science and technology industries,” says Lynn Huntley, SEF president.

Huntley noted that in the year 2000, 44 percent of all African-Americans receiving bachelor degrees in the physical sciences graduated from HBCUs, which make up less than three percent of the nation’s institutions of higher education. “Were it not for these Black schools, located mostly in the South,” Huntley stated, “America would be falling much further behind in meeting its science imperatives. Yet, HBCUs as a group are desperately under-funded when compared to most traditionally White colleges, both private and public.”

SEF’s report calls for “real leadership” among private and public donors to support the Black colleges’ role in STEM education. “The current trend of inadequate support, if continued, will marginalize and progressively weaken the contribution that HBCUs presently make to enlarging the Black presence in the STEM fields…. The nation must find a way to do a better job of developing its most precious treasure – its human capital. Our future depends on it,” the report concludes.

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