CHAPTER 1

INTRODUCTION

The Minority Graduate Fellowship Program 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. 1 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

Scope of the Study

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?

1  

Detailed analysis of the 1978 cohort was not undertaken because management of the program was shifted in 1979. Because of this change, the findings for the 1978 cohort would not be comparable to the findings for the later cohorts and their inclusion would limit the general applicability of the report.



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CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION The Minority Graduate Fellowship Program 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. 1 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 Scope of the Study 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? 1   Detailed analysis of the 1978 cohort was not undertaken because management of the program was shifted in 1979. Because of this change, the findings for the 1978 cohort would not be comparable to the findings for the later cohorts and their inclusion would limit the general applicability of the report.

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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. The characteristics of applicants and awardees are described in the next chapter. As part of that discussion, some attention is also given to the characteristics of applicants who declined award offers. The effect on the probability of selection of applicant characteristics (e.g., gender, race/ethnic group) and scores on the Graduate Record Examination are investigated. Chapter 3 covers the graduate education process. Several dimensions of educational outcomes are examined (e.g., Ph.D. completion rates, time to degree, prestige of degree-granting department, immediate postdegree plans). To the extent possible, these outcomes are examined to verify the applicant ratings of the panels and the impact of the program on Ph.D. production. The method used to accomplish these tasks is similar to the one used in an earlier study of the NSF Graduate Fellowship Program by Joan Snyder. Applicants are partitioned into six Quality Groups. This analysis focuses on the top two groups. Group 1 applicants are judged by the panels to have the strongest likelihood of completing graduate school and entering research careers. Group 2 applicants are judged to have a lower likelihood than Group 1 but are still strong enough to deserve fellowship support. Approximately half of the Group 2 applicants are offered fellowships based on criteria other than applicant quality (e.g., fine field, region of the country, gender). Assuming independence between these criteria and quality, Group 2 awardees and Group 2 nonawardees should be similar in scholastic promise. Differences between Group 1 and Group 2 awardees are assumed to be the result of differences in scholarly promise; differences between Group 2 awardees and nonawardees are used as indicators of program effects (i.e., the result of having been supported by a fellowship from this program). 2 Chapter 4 summarizes findings and highlights areas for further investigation. Sources of Data This study relied on existing data sets, and no special surveys or data collection efforts were made. A merged data base was created from a variety of sources. The 2   See Joan Snyder, “Early Career Achievements of National Science Foundation Graduate Fellows, 1967-1976,” (mimeographed; Washington, D.C.: National Research Council, 1988). A comparable method was used by Baker in a comparison study to this one. See Joe G. Baker, “Career Paths of the National Science Foundation Graduate Fellows of 1972-1981” (Washington, D.C.: National Research Council, Washington, D.C., 1994).

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primary source of information came from the Cumulative Index (CI) of NSF Fellowship Applicants and Awardees. This file contains characteristics on all applications to the NSF fellowship program regarding applicant demographics, educational data, test scores and fellowship status. The CI was the master data set to which a number of supplemental data sets were matched. The Doctorate Records File (DRF) contains records of doctorate recipients of U.S. universities; this was matched to the CI to determine Ph.D. success, postdegree plans, and degree-granting program. The analysis used DRF records for the cohorts that received their degrees prior to 1989. The 1982 NRC quality study of research-doctorate programs was matched with the DRF to determine the prestige of the degree-granting departments. 3 Because the program made only 224 awards over the period of this study, the results should be treated with caution. Small numbers of observations can produce distorted estimates of percentages or relative changes. 3   National Research Council, 1982, An Assessment of Research Doctorate Programs in the United States (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1982).

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