Academic and Social Support
The NCES study of undergraduate student persistence in STEM discussed in Chapter 2 contrasted the extent to which women and underrepresented minorities major and persist in postsecondary science and engineering programs. It reported different patterns: Although women were less likely to major in STEM fields, they have a slightly higher persistence and graduation rate than that of men; while minorities tend to major at the same rate as nonminorities, their persistence was lower. This ability of women to persist at rates similar to or better than their male peers, NCES observed, was due to similar levels of preparation between males and females before college. With regard to underrepresented minorities, however, a different picture emerges. NCES observed that underrepresented minorities face more barriers to persistence and completion and that postsecondary institutions impact the entire process, from entry to graduation.1
Educational attainment is a function of access, information, motivation, affordability, academic preparation and support, social support and integration, and professional development. In their recent book, Crossing the Finish Line, Bowen et al. (2009), argue that “educational attainment in the United States is highly consequential. Important are both the overall level of educational attainment and disparities in educational outcomes by race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status (SES), and the kind of university
a student attends.”2 The rate of postsecondary attainment (i.e., receipt of associate’s or bachelor’s degree) can be increased to meet targets proposed by the College Board, the Lumina Foundation, and President Obama by both enrolling more students in two- and four-year institutions and increasing the percentage of college students who complete. But as Bowen and his colleagues note, we must be concerned not just with overall attainment rates, but with increasing attainment rates across demographic and SES categories: “These outcomes and the forces that drive them are enormously important not only to prospective students and their parents, institutional decision makers, and policy makers but to all who care about both the economic prospects for this country and its social fabric.”3 If we believe in a strong and increasingly important role for science and engineering in developing a strong STEM workforce, educational attainment in these fields, both in general and for underrepresented minorities, is even more important to our future.
ACADEMIC AND SOCIAL INTEGRATION
In Coming to Our Senses, the College Board asserts that “colleges and universities have an obligation to improve student retention, minimize dropouts and raise degree completion rates.” The report recommends that “what is needed is the development of a culture on campus that includes the expectation that every admitted student will, in fact, graduate, and a determination to understand what is going on when students do not” and argues that “only the higher education community can address these issues” (emphasis in original). Further, the report urges a relentless focus “on the educational needs and challenges of those students most likely to run the risk of dropping out—low-income, minority or first-generation students. Even after secondary school programs are improved and greater alignment is achieved between K-12 and higher education institutions, it would be foolish to believe that these students, once on campus, will not continue to need additional academic support and advisement.”4 The Education Trust has developed a “seven-step plan” for lowering college dropout rates that was endorsed by the committee. (See Box 6-1.)
These very practical steps to address completion for all students will benefit underrepresented minority students as well; we have seen general efforts that are part of the broader context shape the experiences of underrepresented minority students in STEM.
A Seven-Step Plan to Lower College Dropout Rates
No matter their orientation or mission—national research university, regional research university, master’s degree institution, or historically black college or university, public or private—different colleges and universities produced substantially different graduation rates, even while enrolling similar students. The Education Trust examined the phenomenon and identified a seven-step process that lowers college dropout rates.
After tracking down their mailing addresses (relatively easy in the Internet age), the university offered simplified readmission, a degree summary indicating courses required (along with priority enrollment in those courses), and support and counseling. The result: Within a few years, the university could point to 1,800 new alumni and alumnae (including 59 with graduate degrees) and a state impressed with the university’s responsiveness.
SOURCE: College Board. 2008a. Coming to Our Senses: Education and the American Future, pp. 17-18.
Sustaining Confidence and Self-Efficacy
Within the broader institutional processes of developing a welcoming climate for diversity, institutions, departments, and programs need to focus on how specifically to support underrepresented minority students as aspiring scientists, engineers, and technicians. Over the past several decades, programs have been developed to attract students to STEM majors and provide the necessary support that will enable the students to complete undergraduate STEM degrees and pursue advanced study. Many of these programs have been supported by major federal and private funding agencies, while others have been implemented and supported by individual institutions or departments. In addition to the programs themselves, there is a growing research base on which factors are important elements for broadening participation.5
Much of the research has focused on ways to address issues of student motivation and confidence, as the challenges are likely to incorporate psychosocial factors beyond simple questions of access and opportunity. For example, Hurtado et al. (2008) argue that for minority students to become and identify as scientists or engineers, they must negotiate psychological territory that is more complex than it is for majority students. Therefore, interventions that are likely to be successful at broadening the participation of minorities will need to be based upon an understanding of why students choose to pursue certain majors and careers.
Social learning theory explores how individuals acquire social values, recognizing that an individual’s personality is based upon unique experi-
Chubin, DePass, and Blockus, 2009; Olson and Fagen, 2007. See also http://understandinginterventions.org.
ences, behavior, and cognition (Bandura 1977, 1985; Johnson et al., 1995). Those seeking to influence students’ choice of major or career need to recognize the impact of many factors on student choices—including but not limited to formal courses and programs.
One area of focus has been on students’ beliefs in their own abilities. This concept, referred to as self-efficacy, has been correlated with issues of persistence and achievement in education settings (Bandura, 1986; Schunk 1981; Zimmerman, 1989; Chemers et al., 2001). Experimental studies in which students were made to enhance their self-efficacy achieved higher performance than those in the control group (Cervone and Peake, 1986; Bouffard-Bouchard, 1990). Thus, one of the key ideas has been to enhance students’ confidence in their own abilities. This helps turn the difficulties that students will have to overcome into challenges rather than threats (Chemers et al., 2001).
Both majority and minority students must develop interest in and motivation to pursue science. Then, they must develop the skills to practice science, ably perform science, and, finally, earn the recognition of themselves and others as competent scientists. This is challenging enough. The culture of science on most of our campuses makes this more difficult by constructing a social structure that “weeds out” students in introductory classes and encourages a highly competitive academic atmosphere among undergraduates. Evidence suggests that URM students, under these conditions, experience disproportionate attrition, especially among those who may have been underprepared in high school.6
For aspiring minority scientists, academic culture adds several more psychological challenges. First, there is the problem of racial stereotyping. Many teachers and faculty continue to hold low expectations for underrepresented minority students; this can lead to direct barriers to participation, such as when students are excluded from programs, classes, and opportunities. In most cases, these exclusions are not made explicitly on the basis of race, but subtly by not inviting or encouraging students to participate in nonrequired opportunities. But it is not only others who hold these stereotypes; many students internalize these stereotypes about themselves. Thus, different students will view the same situation differently depending on their own background and experiences. In areas such as the STEM disciplines, students may come in with the belief that they will not be able to succeed. This “stereotype threat” can cause students to perform to the level of their internalized stereotype rather than their true abilities. The effect can be especially powerful in situations where students are reminded of the perceived stereotype, even with something as simple as checking a
box indicating their race or gender prior to taking a standardized test (see, for example, Bonous-Hammarth, 2000; Brown and Day, 2006; Dar-Nimrod and Heine, 2006; Spencer et al., 1999; Steele, 1992; Steele and Aronson, 1995; Steele et al., 2002).
Second, there is the stigma of minority programs. While many minority students welcome the opportunity to participate in programs designed to provide them with opportunities in STEM that they would not otherwise have had or that they need to compensate for earlier poor educational opportunities in STEM, they worry that these programs stigmatize them as somehow less competent than their majority peers who do not require such programs. This is a particular challenge because there is evidence that support from other minorities—including students and faculty members—is one of the most influential factors affecting science ambition and commitment to science (Grandy, 1998).
Third, although in general, underrepresented minorities are likely to find themselves academically and socially isolated, this is more prevalent within STEM (Nettles 1988; Treisman 1992; Cole and Barber 2003). This sense of isolation can result in a lack of a support structure and reinforcement that scientific careers are not for them. Fostering contact with faculty outside of the classroom through both formal mentoring and informal interactions can be helpful in decreasing this isolation. Similarly, building a critical mass of student peers can enhance the social support system as well as student persistence and success (Allen, 1992; Fries-Britt, 2000; Gándara and Maxwell-Jolly, 1999; McHenry, 1997).
Finally, students who come from economically and culturally disadvantaged backgrounds—those who are minorities, are from low-income families, speak English as a second language, or are the first generation in their family to attend college—find themselves in new, often intimidating situations, and often without the same level of information or even access to information that students from advantaged situations take for granted. Even if students are prepared and interested, they and their families may be intimidated by the higher education environment in which they have had little or no previous interaction. This apprehension may, at worst, create barriers to entry or, at a minimum, create barriers to the information needed to be fully successful.
The Tinto Model of Student Retention
Institutions and programs can help to minimize all of these psychological pitfalls to minority participation through initiatives and programs aimed at stimulating student interest and retaining and advancing students in STEM. For example, The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) developed a symposia program in which invited participating institutions
were asked to provide data on their minority programs. The data collected confirmed that although underrepresented minorities were more likely to drop out of programs early, early intervention strategies made a difference, for example, summer bridge programs, peer mentoring, peer leadership, coaching for social aspects, study groups, early research opportunities, and faculty mentoring.7
Clewell et al. described the “Tinto Model of Student Retention,” which can be used to provide a theoretical frame for academic and social integration. The LSAMP model utilizes the Tinto model, adapts it to the goal of retaining minority students in STEM majors (by providing supportive, integrative services specific to STEM), and encourages these students to continue on to graduate programs in STEM by providing professionalization opportunities (that is, opportunities to engage in the doing of science as professionals). Clewell et al. continued by describing the role of higher education institutions in encouraging persistence.
The institution can, through its formal and informal structures, assist the social and academic integration of the student and thus encourage persistence in the system. The function of these structures should be to smooth the transition of the student into his or her new environment, encourage the building of learning communities with peers, foster interaction between students and faculty and staff, identify student needs and provide adequate support, and foster academic involvement and learning, among other activities. In outlining his model, Tinto saw the need for retention programs specifically tailored to the needs of different groups of students, such as older students, honor students, students of color, transfer students, and academically at-risk students.8
Researchers have modified the Tinto model of student integration and proposed new models to address underrepresented groups and STEM students in particular. For example, Nora et al. (2005) developed the student/institution engagement model as a theoretical framework to examine factors
impacting withdrawal and persistence decisions of undergraduates past the first year in college.9 The framework considers precollege factors and pull factors, initial commitments, academic and social experiences, cognitive and noncognitive outcomes, and final commitments as variables.
Efforts to increase minority participation in STEM will have a higher probability of success and produce more robust results in higher educational institutions that incorporate retention strategies, which we will discuss below., However, such institutions have also undergone or are undertaking comprehensive efforts at institutional transformation in their culture by making diversity inclusion a driver within the business functions of the organization. They are creating a welcoming, inclusive environment, inculcating positive attitudes toward and high educational expectations for minority students, and building the capacity for social and educational interaction across racial/ethnic groups that foster success.
Maton et al. (2008) argued further that transformative institutional change is a necessary prerequisite for lasting efforts to affect diversity:
A subset of theorists have made the case for the necessity of transformative change efforts if enduring progress is to be made in empowering marginalized populations in our society (Hurtado, Dey, Gurin, and Gurin, 2003; Milem and Hakuta, 2000). Maton (2000), for example, has argued that deeply embedded features of social environments influence critical risk and protective processes, nullify person-focused programs, make it difficult to sustain and disseminate promising approaches, and prevent the large-scale mobilization of resources necessary for making a substantial difference. Williams, Berger, and McClendon (2005) argue that a series of transformations are required in organizational culture and behavior if campus diversity initiatives are to make a difference; otherwise, possible benefits of such initiatives may fade very easily. Ibarra (2001) makes the case that only a fundamental change in the culture of higher education related to diversity will result in substance advances for minority students.10
The authors describe how ongoing dialogue within a campus community on issues related to race, a strengths-based rather than a deficits-based
view of minority students, and intensive data-based reviews of minority student achievement are all useful in implementing transformative institutional change.
Hurtado et al. (1999) identify four key steps institutions must take to promote an improved campus climate for diversity:11
“Affirm the goal of achieving a campus climate that supports diversity as an institutional priority.” A campus-wide commitment to inclusiveness provides the best environment for planting the seeds of diversity. This should be articulated by university leaders—faculty, department chairs, deans, provosts, chancellors and presidents, and governing boards (trustees and regents)—both in the university mission and in every day affairs. The visible and continuing commitment of campus leaders to diversity and to minority participation provides the overall, critical tone that signals appropriate actions for others. Faculty are important in the production of diversity in the student population—particularly at the PhD level—as they determine who will be the next generation of scientists and engineers. There can be a large disconnect between what leaders say and what faculty do, and the direct connection, with faculty buy-in, must be made.
“Engage in a deliberate, self-conscious process of self-appraisal that will provide a baseline of information on the current state of affairs regarding the campus climate for diversity,” with a focus on both underrepresented minorities and women.12
“Guided by research, experiences at peer institutions, and results from the systematic assessment of the campus climate for diversity, develop a plan for implementing constructive change that includes specific goals, timetables, and pragmatic activities.” Such activities could include the development, implementation, and enforcement of admissions policies that reinforce diversity within the legal parameters of the Michigan decisions in order to ensure a significant and sufficient overall level of minority participation on campus, and rewarding faculty in the promotion and tenure process for developing student talent, both in general, and for underrepresented groups, including minorities; and providing support and retention measures for underrepresented minority students.
“Implement a detailed and ongoing evaluation program to monitor the effectiveness of and build support for programmatic activities aimed at improving the campus climate for diversity.”
Chubin and Malcom (2008) present three issues that institutions must address to achieve better representation of minorities in STEM:13
The educational case for diversity, showing how students and society benefit from it. The institution can then determine a strategy. What policies should be altered, what practices endorsed, what structural changes made, and what resources committed.
Thinking holistically about diversity in STEM, including the need for everyone on our campuses to be exposed to diverse ideas and worldviews. Functions such as admissions, financial aid, and faculty recruitment and advancement should be reexamined and share responsibility for that goal.
Acknowledging that stereotypes still matter and affect perceptions of quality and expectations for performance.
Efforts to promote inclusivity, however, are not enough unless they are carried out through proactive efforts to encourage the social interaction that is needed to realize inclusivity and the benefits to students of peer-to-peer and faculty-student interactions. Peer-to-peer interaction can help increase cross-racial understanding, reduce barriers to integration in educational and extracurricular activities, and improve retention and success. Faculty-student interaction promotes the development of educational aspirations, academic achievement, persistence, and self-concept.
Thus, to quote Hurtado et al. (1999) further, institutions should14
Involve faculty in efforts to increase diversity that are consistent with their roles as educators and researchers.
Increase students’ interaction with faculty outside class by incorporating students in research and teaching activities.
Create a student-centered orientation among faculty and staff.
Initiate curricular and co-curricular activities that increase dialogue and build bridges across communities of difference.
Include diverse students in activities to increase students’ involvement in campus life.
Increase sensitivity and training of staff who are likely to work with diverse student populations.
D. E. Chubin and S. Malcom. 2008. Making a Case for Diversity in STEM Fields. http://www.insidehighered.com/layout/set/print/viwwews/2008/10/06/chubin.
Hurtado, et al.
Broadening Participation in Graduate School
Recommendations for Institutions of Higher Education:
SOURCE: Council of Graduate Schools. 2009. Broadening Participation in Graduate Education.
As shown in greater detail in Box 6-2, the Council of Graduate Schools has provided additional recommendations for increasing diversity in graduate programs. Evidence of the cultural transformation that results from these efforts can be seen most readily in observable statistics regarding minority enrollment, graduation rates, faculty hiring, and the like. These are key both as indicators of progress and signals to the larger community of commitment and change.