The national goal of increased postsecondary educational attainment is vital. The goal of increased postsecondary participation and success for underrepresented minorities in STEM, which relies in part on the former goal, is strategically important and, as we have now seen, a task of formidable scale.


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.8 This growth rate provides an opportunity to draw on new sources of talent, including underrepresented minorities, to make our S&E workforce as robust and dynamic as possible.

The data on underrepresented minorities in the S&E workforce, however, suggest that while there has been needed progress, there is also reason for continued concern, even alarm. For example, the percentage of our college-educated, nonacademic S&E labor force that is African American increased from 2.6 percent in 1980 to 5.1 percent in 2005, and the percentage that is Hispanic increased from 2.0 percent to 5.2 percent during that period.9 However, these percentages and the progress they represent remain small and insufficient, as African Americans comprise 11 percent and Hispanics 14 percent of the U.S. civilian labor force, and even higher percentages in the U.S. population.

Indeed, the proportion of underrepresented minorities in S&E would need to triple to match their share of the overall U.S. population, revealing a scale of effort that is substantial. As Figure 2-1 shows, in 2006 underrepresented minority groups represented 28.5 percent of our national population but just 9.1 percent of college-educated Americans in science and engineering occupations (academic and nonacademic). Data show that in 2006, fewer than 10 percent of STEM faculty at research universities were


Out of a civilian labor force of more than 150 million in the United States, the S&E workforce ranges in size from less than 4 million to more than 21 million, depending on definitions used, such as occupation, field of degree, and the extent to which S&E knowledge is needed for employment. Here we focus on the most commonly used definition of the S&E workforce, namely, those individuals with a bachelor’s degree or above working in an S&E occupation.

U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics, Employment Situation, Table A-1, Employment status of the civilian population by sex and age, (accessed June 16, 2009). National Science Board, Science and Engineering Indicators, 2008, 3-8; and Sidebar, “Who Is a Scientist or Engineer?,” pp. 3-9.


Table underlying Figure 3-27 in Science and Engineering Indicators, 2008.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement