Important Points Made by the Speaker
• Community colleges need to be integrally involved in a comprehensive, coordinated, and sustained effort to increase the participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM education and careers.
• Increasing the completion rate of underrepresented minorities in STEM majors requires a combination of strong academic, social, and financial support.
• To increase the number of U.S. students who earn degrees in STEM fields, all institutions of higher education must work to create a culture in which it is “cool to be smart.”
The demographics of the U.S. population are undergoing a dramatic shift, observed Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), in his keynote speech at the summit. Minority groups underrepresented in STEM fields soon will make up the majority of school-age children in the United States (Frey, 2012). To maintain the strength and vitality of science and technology in the United States, many more of these minority children must not only decide to become scientists and engineers but succeed in educational pathways that allow them to do so. Given the overrepresentation of minority students in community colleges, community colleges will be critical in achieving this goal.
Drawing from the recent report of a committee that he chaired
(National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, 2011), Hrabowski pointed out that the proportion of underrepresented minorities in the natural sciences and engineering was less than a third of their share of the overall population in 2006 (National Science Foundation, 2011). In other words, the proportion of underrepresented minorities in science and engineering would need to triple to match their representation in the overall U.S. population.
This underrepresentation of minorities in the science and engineering workforce stems from the underproduction of minorities in science and engineering at every level of the pathways from elementary school to higher education and the workplace. Though underrepresented minorities now account for almost 40 percent of K-12 students in the United States, they earn only 27 percent of the associateâ€™s degrees from community colleges, only 17 percent of the bachelorâ€™s degrees in the natural sciences and engineering, and only 6.6 percent of the doctorates in those fields.
President Obama has called on the United States to increase its postsecondary completion rate from 39 percent to 58–60 percent by the year 2020.1 The challenge in doing so is greatest for minorities who are underrepresented in science and engineering. According to 2006 data, of Americans aged 25 to 34, only about one quarter of African Americans, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders had earned at least an associateâ€™s degree, and fewer than one in five Hispanics had reached this educational level.
In 2000, the United States ranked 20th in the world in the percentage of 24-year-olds who had earned a first college degree in the natural sciences and engineering, Hrabowski noted. The report Rising Above the Gathering Storm (National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, 2007) called on the United States to raise the percentage of 24-year-olds with a first degree in the natural sciences and engineering from 6 percent to 10 percent. This would require a tripling, quadrupling, or quintupling of the percentages for underrepresented minorities, which are 2.7 percent for African Americans, 3.3 percent for Native Americans, and 2.2 percent for Latinos.
INTENTIONS AND COMPLETIONS
Since the 1980s, underrepresented minorities have aspired to major in science and engineering at about the same proportions as their white and Asian American peers, Hrabowski observed. Yet they complete STEM degrees in lower proportions than whites and Asian Americans. Five
1For additional information, see http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/completion_state_by_state.pdf.
years after matriculating, only about 20 percent of underrepresented minorities who intended to earn a STEM degree have done so. Surprisingly, only about one-third of whites and slightly more than 40 percent of Asian Americans earn STEM degrees within five years.
Hrabowski ascribed part of this attrition to the culture of science and engineering in college. A large part of the problem is the “weed-out” mentality still held by many college faculty in these subjects, he said. When students have difficulties with their initial classes, they are more likely to be encouraged to transfer to another major than to receive help in overcoming those difficulties. Hrabowski recounted talking to the directors of the institutes at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and saying that he had many friends who started in science or engineering and became great lawyers. “Everybody laughed, but afterwards the General Counsel of NIH came to me and said, ’You just told my story. I went to one of the Ivies. I started off in science. I had the best of test scores, the best of grades. I got wiped out in the first year and I changed to pre-law.â€™ It happens all the time.” Not only do such experiences lead to fewer students of all races majoring in science or engineering, but also they affect attitudes in general toward the subjects. He said, “You have to ask, how could Americans really love science or math. .. if they started off and [ended] getting wiped out? There is a negativity. When I ask audiences, ’How many of you love to read?â€™ everybody raises their hand. Then I ask, ’How many of you love math?â€™ and people start to laugh.”
The problem is urgent, Hrabowski said. A national effort to address underrepresented minority participation and success in STEM fields needs to be initiated and sustained. This effort must focus on all segments of the pathways, all stakeholders, and the potential of all programs, whether targeted at underrepresented minorities or at all students. Students who have had less exposure to STEM and to postsecondary education than others require more intensive efforts at each level to provide adequate preparation, financial support, mentoring, social integration, and professional development. Evaluations of STEM programs, along with increased research on the many dimensions of underrepresented minoritiesâ€™ experiences, are needed to ensure that programs are well informed, well designed, and successful.
The NRC committee that Hrabowski chaired made recommendations in Expanding Underrepresented Minority Participation: Americaâ€™s Science and Technology Talent at the Crossroads (National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, 2011) at the preschool through grade 12 level in the areas of early readi-
ness, mathematics and science instruction, and teacher preparation and retention. At the summit, however, Hrabowski focused his comments on the postsecondary level. Underrepresented students need improved access to postsecondary education and technical training. They need more awareness of and motivation to pursue STEM education and careers. They also need adequate financial support. “It is impossible for a student to do well in biochemistry while working 25 hours on the outside,” said Hrabowski. “When you are doing all of that work on the outside, it is almost impossible to succeed in science.”
Colleges and universities need to institute reforms to increase the inclusiveness and success of underrepresented students in STEM fields. Colleges have a tendency to say that the problem is at the K-12 level, but Hrabowski disagreed. He said K-12 education does need to be strengthened, but more students are better prepared than many faculty and administrators at colleges and universities think. According to Sylvia Hurtado, who directs the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, and was on the NRC committee Hrabowski chaired, the larger the number of Advanced Placement credits a student has taken, the higher the SAT, and the more selective the university, the greater the probability the student will leave science as an undergraduate, noting “It is not just a matter of preparation.” When college presidents point out to Hrabowski that most of the underrepresented students interested in science and engineering leave these majors, he responds that the majority of white and Asian American students do, too.
The NRC (2011) committee recommended increasing the completion rate of underrepresented students by providing strong academic, social, and financial support. This support should come from programs that simultaneously integrate academic, social, and professional development. Programs also are needed that facilitate the transition from undergraduate to graduate education and provide support for graduate students.
THE CHALLENGE FOR TWO-YEAR INSTITUTIONS
Hrabowski cited several challenges that are particularly acute for community colleges. Inadequate levels of mathematical preparation are a problem for almost all colleges and universities, but it is an especially difficult problem at community colleges. (This issue is the subject of Chapter 5.) Community colleges also need to balance the tasks of preparing students for further study at four-year colleges and graduate schools along with preparation resulting in two-year degrees and other certificates for the technical workforce. To facilitate and increase the transfer of underrepresented students in STEM to four-year institutions, increased emphasis and support are needed for articulation agreements, summer
bridge programs, mentoring, academic and career counseling, peer support, tutoring, social integration activities, study groups, undergraduate research, and tracking of student progress. (Transfer issues are discussed in Chapter 6.)
Several federal programs facilitate the transfer of underrepresented minorities from community colleges to four-year institutions, Hrabowski noted, such as the Bridges to the Baccalaureate2 Program and the Community College Summer Enrichment Program at NIH.3 Community colleges also have mounted such promising initiatives as Miami Dade Collegeâ€™s Windows of Opportunity Program,4 which helps academically promising, low-income students in obtaining associateâ€™s degrees in the arts or in STEM disciplines. Strategies that promote transfer include grants that allow community college students to work less outside of their academic programs and complete their associateâ€™s degrees in three years and then successfully transfer to complete their four-year degrees.
The Gates Foundation is supporting research in the state of Maryland to track students who have been majoring in science and pre-engineering areas and look at what happens to them when they come to four-year institutions. The underlying objective is to get faculty at different institutions to talk honestly and openly about how work at one level is related to work at the next level. Even if courses have the same name, they may not be at the same level, so students who transfer to a four-year college are not as prepared as they need to be, Hrabowski stated. The initiative also gives faculty at the four-year institutions a better idea of the challenges that community colleges are facing.5
Finally, Hrabowski emphasized the potential for internships to motivate students and prepare them for careers. “When students have internships. .. and see the connection between their academic work and what is going on in a company, they get even more excited,” he said. Internships make students more serious about their work. The needs of industry can be infused into the curriculum, especially when people from business are involved in developing or teaching the courses. Students learn how to work in teams, express themselves clearly, and gain other 21st century
2Additional information is available at http://www.nigms.nih.gov/Research/Mechanisms/BridgesBaccalaureate.htm.
5A website for this program was not available at the time that this report was prepared. Additional information about this program is currently available as a downloadable PowerPoint presentation titled “A Shared Responsibility: Creating a t-STEM Friendly Multi-Campus Community (T-STEM Cross-Campus Collaboration Team, UMBC)” at http://www.transferinstitute.unt.edu/content/10th-annual-conference-national-institute-study-transferstudents.
skills6 that they can use in the workplace (e.g., National Research Council, 2010). In the area of cybersecurity, to cite just one example, Hrabowski noted that the majority of students who have internships go to work full time for the same companies once they graduate. “It is amazing how much more students will do when they get connected to the company early.”
PROGRAMS AT UMBC
Hrabowski mentioned several programs at UMBC, which is nationally recognized for its Meyerhoff Scholars Program,7 that involve community colleges. For example, UMBC has a Chemistry Discovery Center8 that is working with community colleges with an emphasis on group work, use of technology, collaboration, and professional development for faculty. The key, said Hrabowski, is to involve people in an activity that they see as exciting. “That is the thing about my campus,” he said. “We are seeing amazing results for students of all races where the emphasis is on student engagement and on empowering students.”
UMBC has memoranda of understanding with four community colleges in Maryland, which enable both students and faculty to move back and forth among the institutions, and similar arrangements could be made at many four-year and two-year colleges. The Gates grant is also producing more communication and movement among institutions.
UMBC has contacts with many companies in such areas as biotechnology, computer security, defense, and environmental protection that are very interested in hiring students not just at the PhD level but at the four-year and two-year levels as well. High school counselors, families, and students all need to know about these options, which provide what Hrabowski called “great jobs, good-paying jobs,” and about how to take advantage of them.
UMBC enrolls students from 150 countries, and those international students are hungry for knowledge. Having them on campus makes the U.S. students focus and push harder, according to Hrabowski. Through-
6NRC (2010, p. 3) lists as “21st century skills” adaptability, complex communication/social skills, non-routine problem solving, self-management and self-development, and systems thinking. NRC (2011, p. 1) further refines this list to include “â€¦ being able to solve complex problems, to think critically about tasks, to effectively, communicate with people from a variety of different cultures and using a variety of different techniques, to work in collaboration with others, to adapt to rapidly changing environments and conditions for performing tasks, to effectively manage oneâ€™s work, and to acquire new skills and information on oneâ€™s own.”
8Additional information is available at http://www.umbc.edu/chem/facilities/discovery.html.
out the 20th century, many of the best figures in science and engineering had parents who came from other countries. Today, the majority of black students on Ivy League campuses have parents from another country. “It has everything to do with the hunger for the knowledge,” Hrabowski said. “You have to work really hard.”
During the discussion period, Hrabowski remarked on some of the factors behind the success of the Meyerhoff Program, which is the national leader in producing African American graduates at a predominantly white school who go on to complete their PhD in science and engineering, with 12 to 15 of these graduates typically earning a STEM PhD each year. The program has created a culture where it is “cool to be smart,” Hrabowski said. Multiple academic and social connections link students to each other, to faculty members, and to community members. Students are engaged in projects rather than just sitting in lectures, which has required that courses be redesigned. Students are connected with companies through classroom projects and internships to show them what it takes to get a good job. Graduates who get these jobs in turn come back and talk with students. Recent graduates and current students know better than anyone else how to get more students involved.
Hrabowski has written books on raising smart black children (Hrabowski et al., 2002; Hrabowski, Maton, and Greif, 1998), and he emphasized what parents in successful families do: work with their children to develop their reading, thinking, and studying skills. Succeeding in mathematics or science is not always fun, and he emphasized, “Hard work is hard work. We have to get students engaged in the work.”
Hrabowski also noted during the discussion session that completion of degree programs is a problem at community colleges. “Anybody from a community college knows what I am saying. Most of the kids who start off saying they want something at a two-year college do not finish the program,” he said. NSF should support an effort to assess what percentage of community college students who start in STEM programs finish them, Hrabowski urged.
Faculty and staff involvement is critical. Many faculty are not familiar with the data regarding contributors to student performance. In making decisions about education, they tend to rely on anecdotal or impressionistic information, according to Hrabowski. Effective interventions require that actions be based on data.
Summit participant Rebecca Hartzler, now at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, pointed out that the numbers of women and underrepresented minorities in some fields might need to
increase by an order of magnitude for representation to be proportional. She was the first tenured woman in physics in community colleges in Washington State, and there may now be two more. “We donâ€™t want three physics faculty in 34 community colleges in Washington State,” she said. “We want 30 women teaching physics in Washington State. We [need] much larger ambitions.”