However, he noted that, although the percentage and numbers of students who have taken a high school physics course have increased across all ethnicities and races over the past 25 years, there has not been similar growth for minorities who pursue physics at the undergraduate level: in 1996, roughly 6 percent (166 majors/year) of all physics baccalaureate recipients were African American; in 2007, it was less than 3 percent (144 majors/year) (Figure 3). The drop in percentage is due to both an increase in the total number of undergraduate physics degrees obtained by students of any race or ethnicity and a real decrease in the number of African American males attaining these degrees.
FIGURE 3. Percent of physics bachelor’s (US citizens only) who were African American, classes 1996 through 2007.
SOURCE: American Institute of Physics (www.aip.org/statistics).
According to Stith, most African American physics PhD recipients used to receive their doctoral degrees from one of 34 historically black colleges or universities (HBCUs), which graduated roughly 60% of the African American baccalaureates in physics (Box 1). But because of program closures, only four HBCUs—Howard University, Hampton, Florida A&M, and Alabama A&M—now produce the majority of African American physics PhDs from all institutions. Stith found this change particularly troubling because only about 13% of African Americans currently attend any of the 110 HBCUs for their undergraduate education.
In conclusion, Stith stated that the continuous encouragement of minority students and their access to high-caliber teachers and faculty are two crucial factors needed for minority males to be successful in STEM studies and careers.