a student attends.”2 The rate of postsecondary attainment (i.e., receipt of associate’s or bachelor’s degree) can be increased to meet targets proposed by the College Board, the Lumina Foundation, and President Obama by both enrolling more students in two- and four-year institutions and increasing the percentage of college students who complete. But as Bowen and his colleagues note, we must be concerned not just with overall attainment rates, but with increasing attainment rates across demographic and SES categories: “These outcomes and the forces that drive them are enormously important not only to prospective students and their parents, institutional decision makers, and policy makers but to all who care about both the economic prospects for this country and its social fabric.”3 If we believe in a strong and increasingly important role for science and engineering in developing a strong STEM workforce, educational attainment in these fields, both in general and for underrepresented minorities, is even more important to our future.
In Coming to Our Senses, the College Board asserts that “colleges and universities have an obligation to improve student retention, minimize dropouts and raise degree completion rates.” The report recommends that “what is needed is the development of a culture on campus that includes the expectation that every admitted student will, in fact, graduate, and a determination to understand what is going on when students do not” and argues that “only the higher education community can address these issues” (emphasis in original). Further, the report urges a relentless focus “on the educational needs and challenges of those students most likely to run the risk of dropping out—low-income, minority or first-generation students. Even after secondary school programs are improved and greater alignment is achieved between K-12 and higher education institutions, it would be foolish to believe that these students, once on campus, will not continue to need additional academic support and advisement.”4 The Education Trust has developed a “seven-step plan” for lowering college dropout rates that was endorsed by the committee. (See Box 6-1.)
These very practical steps to address completion for all students will benefit underrepresented minority students as well; we have seen general efforts that are part of the broader context shape the experiences of underrepresented minority students in STEM.