coincides with the period of increasing educational opportunity for white Americans discussed above. The efforts of the civil rights movement led to increases in educational opportunity for underrepresented minorities, beginning in the 1940s with Mendez et al. v. Westminster Schools District of Orange County, continuing in the 1950s with the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, and accelerating in the 1960s, 1970s, and after with cases such as Edgewood ISD v. Kirby.

This period of inclusion for underrepresented minorities, however, particularly from the 1970s on, coincides with stagnation in both public educational investment and overall levels of educational attainment. So, little progress has been made to more than marginally improve educational outcomes for minorities.6 While the targeted level of 55 percent postsecondary attainment is already achieved by Asian Americans in the United States and nearly matched by our white population (as it is by their peer cohorts in Canada and Japan), the postsecondary attainment of underrepresented minority students lags behind that of white and Asian students dramatically. Underrepresented minorities will need to more than double their proportions with a postsecondary degree in order just to meet the 55 percent mark. At present, just 26 percent of African Americans, 24 percent of Native Americans and Pacific Islanders, and 18 percent of Hispanics and Latinos in the 25- to 34-year-old cohort have attained at least an associate’s degree.

The news is even worse in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, the subject of this report. In 2000, the United States ranked 20 out of 24 countries in the percentage of 24-year-olds who had earned a first degree in the natural sciences or engineering, and Rising Above the Gathering Storm recommended efforts to increase the percentage of 24-year-olds with these degrees from 6 percent to at least 10 percent, the benchmark already attained by Finland, France, Taiwan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom.

But again, as bad as the statistics are for the overall population, they are even more alarming for underrepresented minorities. These students now need to triple, quadruple, or even quintuple their proportions with a first degree in these fields in order to achieve this 10 percent goal. At present, just 2.7 percent of African Americans, 3.3 percent of Native Americans and Alaska Natives, and 2.2 percent of Hispanics and Latinos who are 24 years old have earned a first degree in the natural sciences or engineering.7


C. Newfield. 2008. Unmaking the Public University: The Forty-Year Assault on the Middle Class.(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


National Science Foundation, Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering, (accessed March 27, 2009); U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates, Available at (accessed March 27, 2009).

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