Minority Students Face Obstacles Earning STEM Degrees, Says ACE Study
Black and Hispanic students are just as interested in careers in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields as White and Asian students, but the need to make money and other obstacles prevent them from earning their bachelor’s at the same rate as their peers, according to a new analysis conducted by the American Council on Education.
“Our analysis seems to dispel the commonly held belief that African-American and Hispanic students aren’t interested in majoring in STEM fields,” says Dr. Eugene L. Anderson, associate director of the Center for Policy Analysis at ACE and co-author of the report.
“We find that these students do pursue these majors and persist beyond the third year, but are not earning enough credits each year to attain a degree within six years,” Anderson says.
The ACE analysis identified a number of key differences between students who earned a bachelor’s in a STEM field and those who did not. Completers were better prepared for college because they came from highly rigorous high school programs. Nearly all completers were younger than 19 when they entered college, compared with 83.9 percent of non-completers. Also, completers were more likely to have at least one parent with a bachelor’s or higher. Completers came from families with higher incomes while non-completers were more likely to work 15 hours or more a week.
“The challenge now is to move traditionally under-represented students in the STEM fields toward timely degree completion by supporting these students — both academically and financially — throughout their undergraduate careers,” says Anderson.
A practical solution, he adds, is for Black and Hispanic students to remain enrolled in school full time. Research suggests attending full time and working less than 15 hours a week allows students to persist and devote enough time to their studies.
“Positive and negative predictors of degree completion are not specific to the STEM fields, and the strategies for increasing minority student degree completion in the STEM fields are the same for increasing success in any other major,” adds Dr. Dongbin Kim, assistant professor in the department of teaching and leadership at the University of Kansas and co-author of the report.
“Increasing the Success of Minority Students in Science and Technology” is the fourth publication in the ACE series “The Unfinished Agenda: Ensuring Success for Students of Color.” The report relies on data from a longitudinal study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, which tracked 12,000 undergraduates who entered college in the fall of 1995.
Among the study’s findings:
- In the 1995-1996 academic year, 18.6 percent of Black students and 22.7 percent of Hispanic students began college interested in majoring in STEM fields, compared with 18 percent of White students and 26.4 percent of Asian-American students.
- By the spring of 1998, students in each racial/ethnic group continued to study STEM fields at nearly the same rates (56 percent of Blacks and Hispanics, 57 percent of Whites and Asian Americans).
- By the spring of 2001, 62.5 percent of Blacks and Hispanics majoring in STEM fields attained a bachelor’s, compared with 94.8 percent of Asian Americans and 86.7 percent of Whites.
— Shilpa Banerji
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