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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The Minority Graduate Fellowship Program (MGFP) was established in 1978 by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to provide support to graduate students from underrepresented minority groups (i.e., blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans) who are seeking doctorates in science or engineering fields. This report summarizes the experiences of early cohorts of applicants and awardees of this program. Specifically, the report describes the characteristics of the 1979-1981 program applicants and awardees and their graduate education experiences. Given the amount of time it takes to acquire a Ph.D., the number of program participants from the 1979-1981 cohort who had completed their degrees and launched their careers at the time this study was undertaken was too small to permit meaningful comparisons of early career experiences The objective of this study is descriptive rather than prescriptive. It addresses such questions as: What are the characteristics of the applicant pool? Is the selection process competitive? Is it identifying the more promising students? Are these students successfully completing their graduate training? How long is it taking to complete their training? Comparisons are also made with other programs and with the larger pool of Ph.D. recipients in answering some of these questions. These data can be used to identify potential areas of both strength and weakness in the program’s operation. By itself, however, the information provided in this report will not be sufficient for the prescription of policy, although it will aid in the identification of areas in which such prescriptions might be required. Major findings are summarized below. The Selection Process Two-thirds of the 1,361 1979-1981 applicants were black. Roughly three-tenths were Hispanic. The remaining applicants were Native Americans.
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Female applicants represented 55 percent of the 905 black applications but only 31 percent of the 400 applications from Mexican-Americans. Within minority groups the largest number of applicants generally applied for awards in behavioral and social sciences. About one-fifth of applicants were from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Here, also, the importance of HBCUs varied among race/ethnic groups. Obviously, the source was quite important for black applicants (one-third of whom were from HBCUs) and was insignificant for all other applicants. The mean age of the applicants ranged from 24.1 for Puerto Ricans to 27.0 for Native Americans--several years older than the typical age of college graduates. The quantitative and verbal Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores and undergraduate grade point averages (GPAs) of black applicants were, in general, substantially below those of the other ethnic groups. Among applicants, Mexican-Americans had the highest GRE scores, while Puerto Ricans had the highest GPAs. Consistent with the data on mean age, applicants applied for support approximately 2.5 to 3 years after receipt of their baccalaureate degree, with blacks waiting the longest to apply. Public institutions were the largest source of applicants, representing almost three-fifths of all applicants. Of the public institutions, comprehensive universities were the dominant source, supplying over one-third of the total applicants. But there was substantial variation in the importance of this source among race/ethnic groups. Roughly three-fifths of black applicants were from these institutions, compared to about one-fourth of Puerto Ricans. Applicants applying for graduate support in engineering, mathematics, and physical sciences (EMP) fields had the highest cumulative GRE scores, followed by applicants for the life sciences. Applicants for behavioral and social sciences had the lowest average scores. Within fields the average scores of male applicants were consistently higher than the scores of female applicants. Major research universities and predominantly minority institutions (including HBCUs) were equally represented among the top 10 producers of applicants. Awards Roughly one in six applicants (16 percent) was offered an award. Only 14 percent of black applicants were offered fellowships, compared with 31 percent for Mexican-Americans. Puerto Ricans had award rates closer to black applicants (16 percent), while Native Americans had rates closer to the Mexican-American end of the spectrum (27 percent).
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There was close correspondence between applications and offers by field. This implies that the number of awards by field was driven largely by the number of applications by field. Using the field distribution of minority baccalaureates as the basis of comparison, the life sciences and engineering, mathematics, and physical sciences were more successful, and the behavioral and social sciences less successful, in attracting applicants. Offerees in the EMP fields were markedly different from offerees in the other fields. A higher percentage were from Quality Group 1; they had higher average GRE scores; and relatively more were from private universities. A significant positive association existed for both males and females between the quantitative GRE score and the proportion of applicants offered a fellowship. Given quantitative scores, females on average were more likely to receive an offer than males. Private Research 1 university applicants had the highest success rates. Within each Carnegie Classification, applicants from private colleges and universities were generally more successful in obtaining fellowship offers than those from public institutions. HBCU graduates were less successful in obtaining fellowship offers than black applicants with B.A.s from non-HBCUs. This difference was particularly large in the EMP fields, where only 7 percent of black applicants from HBCUs were offered fellowships, compared with 19 percent of other black applicants. Declination rates for offerees by major field and gender were consistently higher in the MGFP than comparable rates in the Graduate Fellowship Program (GFP). Within the MGFP, declination rates were highest in the EMP fields and lowest in the life sciences. One-third of the males and one-sixth of the females offered fellowships in EMP declined them. Since almost one in five of the declinees in EMP fields--but none of the seven declinees in other fields--acquired a doctorate, one can infer that some of the EMP declinees went to graduate school, presumably under other sources of support. Education Outcomes By the end of 1988, 41 percent of the 113 MGFP awardees of 1979-1981 had completed their doctorates. These rates varied by field, with completion rates of 37 percent (8 out of 26 awardees) in the EMP fields, 43 percent (12 out of 27) in the life sciences, and 44 percent (22 out of 50) in the behavioral and social sciences.
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Male awardees had substantially higher completion rates than female awardees in each field; and Quality Group 1 awardees generally had higher completion rates than Quality Group 2 awardees, although the evidence was mixed by field. Completion rates were even lower for the 1978 cohort; 21 percent (7 out of 33 awardees) had completed their Ph.D. by the end of 1988. Completion rates were not systematically related to cumulative scores achieved in the quantitative and verbal portions of the GRE. The mean scores of awardees who completed their doctorates by 1988 were roughly equal to those of all awardees after stratification for field and gender. Awardees who received their baccalaureates from public universities generally had higher completion rates than those from private institutions; the exception was in the behavioral and social sciences. Awardees from HBCUs had substantially higher completion rates than awardees from other types of undergraduate institutions. Among awardees who received the doctorate, 15 (or 19 percent) of the 78 doctorate recipients attended Ph.D.-granting programs ranked in the top 5 percent as measured by ratings of the scholarly quality of program faculty by a nationwide survey of their peers. This statistic varied considerably by field (16 percent in the EMP fields, 8 percent in life sciences, and 29 percent in behavioral and social sciences). Group 1 awardees were less likely to have received their Ph.D.s from top-ranked graduate programs than Group 2 awardees. These findings should be treated with caution, however. The number of observations on which they are based is small and a substantial percentage (almost 60 percent) of the doctorates received their degrees from programs that had not been rated. MGFP doctorates were more likely to have secured employment or study positions at the time of graduation than all Ph.D. recipients in science and engineering fields. Areas for Further Investigation Among the many findings summarized above, three are highlighted as worthy of further attention: the experience of students from HBCUs, the high proportion of applicants who do not accept their awards, and the low rate of Ph.D. completion of those who do accept awards. Black applicants from HBCUs were less successful in obtaining awards than black applicants from non-HBCUs, especially in the EMP fields. However, among black awardees, those from HBCUs had higher rates of Ph.D. completion than those from other institutions. These differences suggest that panelists may have been underselecting awardees from HBCUs relative to non-HBCUs.
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Among those offered awards, declination rates are higher in the MGFP than they are in the GFP. This differential is found within each field and across genders. And in some cases it is substantial--one-third of the males and one-sixth of the females in EMP fields. National Science Foundation policy does not currently call for declined awards to be offered to other applicants. Thus, although there is no loss in efficiency--measured in terms of the program’s impact per dollar spent--there is a loss in program impact or effectiveness. Fewer awards ultimately mean fewer new additions to the minority Ph.D. talent pool. Further examination of (1) whether this finding is unique to the 1979-1981 cohort of applicants and (2), if not, the reasons for these high declination rates would, therefore, be desirable. Among awardees, Ph.D. completion rates were lower in the MGFP than in the regular GFP in EMP fields and for females in life sciences. These low completion rates are a cause for concern and merit further investigation. It would be particularly interesting to determine the extent to which this finding reflects the arbitrary truncation of those rates arising from calculating them as of 1988, 7 to 9 years after receipt of the award. Information on the status of noncompleters would provide the basis for determining whether those low completion rates reflect high dropout rates.
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