« Support Your Local Teachers | Main | Working With Reporters »

Interesting Answers About Minority Student Under-representation

The other day I was talking to Geoff Sutcliffe at the University of Miami about a grant proposal he is working on that cleverly combines JETT workshops for teachers with funding for students who want to major in computer science or mathematics. Considering the cost of education these days, this sounds like a great idea to me, and according to a new report from the American Council on Education, Geoff may actually be addressing the key problem behind the under-representation of minority students in our field.

An interesting new report from the American Council on Education is shedding new light on why there are fewer Black and Hispanic students who graduate with university degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Contrary to the commonly-held belief that many minority students are simply not interested in these fields, the study indicates that Black and Hispanic students are about as likely as their white and Asian-American peers to enter college interested in majoring in the STEM disciplines.

The report, "Increasing the Success of Minority Students in Science and Technology," is based on a longitudinal study in which the U.S. Department of Education collected data over six years on the progress of 12,000 students who began college in the fall of 1995. The initial sampling of entering freshmen found that 22.7% of Hispanic and 18.6% of black students entered college interested in the STEM fields, compared with 26.4% of Asian-American students and 18% of white students.

It revealed that while Black and Hispanic students were just as likely as other students to get though the perceived gatekeeper courses in the first year, they seemed to run into trouble in their third year, and by the end of their sixth year of college, just 62.5% of those who had still been in STEM fields as of 1998 had obtained degrees in those areas, compared with 94.8% of Asian-American and 86.7% of white students who had remained in those fields.

Among the results of the study, these three stood out particularly for me.
* Nearly 42% of those who earned a degree in a STEM discipline on time had taken a highly rigorous curriculum in high school, compared with just 18 percent of those who did not finish on time.
* More than 64% of those who completed such degrees had at least one parent with at least a bachelor's degree, and 47%t came from families with income levels in the top third nationally. Of the students who failed to earn their degrees on time, 38% had at least one parent with at least a bachelor's degree, and 28% came from the wealthiest third.
* Of the students who graduated on time, 38.5% had received financial-aid grants exceeding $5,000 as freshmen, and 27.1% had worked more than 15 hours per week. In contrast, just 7.6% of the students who failed to obtain STEM-field degrees on time had received financial-aid grants of $5,000 or more as freshmen, and 42.6% had worked more than 15 hours a week.

What this tell us is that:
* Good high school courses matter
* Family matters
* Money matters

Much of our effort at CSTA is focused on convincing students that computer science is a rich, diverse, and rewarding field, one worthy of their dreams and their effort. And this is true. But what is also true is that to convince a child to dream and then not provide her or him with the tools to achieve that dream is not just unfair or unwise, it is cruel and irresponsible.

This is why we need to work together to make our programs more accessible to all students. This is one reason I hope that Geoff gets his grant.

Copies of the report can be ordered for $22 (plus $6.95 shipping and handling) from the ACE Fulfillment Service, Department 191, Washington, D.C. 20055-1091, or by calling (301) 632-6757.

Chris Stephenson
Executive Director

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)