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Empowering Students of Color: The Role of Minority Serving Institutions


Editor’s Note: This post is co-authored with Thai-Huy Nguyen, a Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania.

Currently, Blacks receive roughly 6.1 percent of the degrees in math and statistics, 6.7 percent in physical sciences, and 5.2 percent in engineering. Likewise, Latinos receive roughly 6.8 percent of the degrees in computer science, 5.8 percent in math, and 6.5 percent in physical science. And, Native Americans receive roughly .5 percent of the degrees in computer science, .5 percent in math, and .7 percent in physical science. Although there has been progress in recent years among these groups, the progress does not reflect the proportion of these groups enrolled in college. 

What is interesting about these statistics is how the come to be and the role of MSIs in raising them to new levels. One might expect that the majority of these students of color in the STEM fields come from majority institutions. They do. However, a whopping one-third of these degree holders in STEM earned there degrees at Black colleges, tribal colleges, and Hispanic Serving Institutions. MSIs are disproportionately responsible for producing graduates of color in the STEM fields given that they represent only 10 percent of the nation’s colleges and universities.

MSIs boast this success despite facing many challenges often not faced by majority institutions. First, MSIs typically have low endowments making it more difficult for them to offer high scholarship packages and many of the campus resources offered by majority institutions. Second, MSI faculty members have to balance very heavy teaching loads with their research. Whereas MSI faculty members often teach four or even five courses a semester, faculty members at research-focused institutions only teach one or two courses per semester.

Third, MSIs have a limited track record for applying for and receiving government grants in the area of STEM. Because they have a smaller infrastructure and fewer resources, applying for and managing large government grants can be difficult. And fourth, MSIs often enroll students that are challenging in terms of retention and graduation. Because MSIs often enroll low-income, first generation, and underprepared minority students, they have to spend more time and resources ensuring success among these students. Regardless, MSIs are disproportionately producing graduates in the STEM fields.

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