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Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: America’s Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads
awards and in some engineering fields comprise the majority of new doctorates. Yet, we are coming to understand that relying on non-U.S. citizens for our S&E workforce is an increasingly uncertain proposition.
The demographics of our domestic population are shifting dramatically: If the uncertainty about the future participation of international students suggests that we need to ensure that we draw on all demographic sources, the dramatic changes in the demographics of the domestic population, especially the school-age population, suggest that the problem is all the more urgent: Those groups that are most underrepresented in S&E arealso the fastest growing in the general population.
Diversity is an asset: Increasing the participation and success of underrepresented minorities in S&E contributes to the health of the nation by expanding the S&E talent pool, enhancing innovation, and improving the nation’s global economic leadership.
Dimensions of the Problem
The S&E workforce is large and fast-growing: more than 5 million strong and projected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to grow faster than any other sector in coming years. This growth rate provides an opportunity as well as an obligation to draw on new sources of talent to make the S&E workforce as robust and dynamic as possible. But we start from a challenging position: Underrepresented minority groups comprised 28.5 percent of our national population in 2006, yet just 9.1 percent of college-educated Americans in science and engineering occupations (academic and nonacademic), suggesting the proportion of underrepresented minorities in S&E would need to triple to match their share of the overall U.S. population.
Underrepresentation of this magnitude in the S&E workforce stems from the underproduction of minorities in S&E at every level of post-secondary education, with a progressive loss of representation as we proceed up the academic ladder. In 2007, underrepresented minorities comprised 38.8 percent of K-12 public enrollment, 33.2 percent of the U.S college age population, 26.2 percent of undergraduate enrollment, and 17.7 percent of those earning science and engineering bachelor’s degrees. In graduate school, underrepresented minorities comprise 17.7 percent of overall enrollment but are awarded just 14.6 percent of S&E master’s degrees and a miniscule 5.4 percent of S&E doctorates.
Historically, there has been a strong connection between increasing educational attainment in the United States and the growth in and global leadership of the economy. Consequently, there have been calls—from the College Board, the Lumina and Gates Foundations, and the administration—to increase the postsecondary completion rate in the United