EDWARD M. KENNEDY
November 17, 2006
Ralph J. Cicerone, PhD
National Academy of Sciences
500 5th Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
Dear Dr. Cicerone:
We understand that the National Academy of Sciences has begun to examine the issue of diversity in the science, technology, engineering, and math workforce and its role in keeping America innovative and competitive. We are writing to urge you to conduct a formal study on this critical issue.
The National Academy’s recent report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, identified key policy recommendations for maintaining American competitiveness in the years to come. The report ranked the improvement of education in science, technology, engineering, and math, at the top of the list, and rightly recognized the need to ensure that low income and minority students have equal access to the highest quality education in these disciplines. By exploring the challenges we currently face and the steps we can take to overcome them, the Academy can have a critical role in developing a strong and diverse workforce and in ensuring that each and every individual in America has the opportunity to contribute to the 21st century economy.
Currently, African-Americans represent only 4% of the science and engineering workforce, and Hispanics are similarly underrepresented. Americans of color are entering postsecondary studies in science, technology, engineering, and math at higher rates than white students, but significantly fewer African-American and Hispanic students are graduating with degrees in these fields. Only 63% of such students will continue their study in such fields to earn a bachelor’s degree.
By 2050, the Census Bureau predicts that 50% of the U.S. population will be Hispanic, African-American, and Asian. The current science and engineering workforce, however, is nearly 82 percent 0white and more than 75 percent male. If this workforce is to expand as predicted, and if we are to continue to be innovative and competitive, we cannot accept this decreasing percentage of the population in fields that are so vital to the future of the Amcrican economy.