Sep. 15, 1998 AAAS Urges Strong Policies To Protect Against Further Decreases
Washington, DC--September 11, 1998--The number of first-year graduate enrollments of African Americans in the science and engineering fields dropped more than 20 percent between 1996 and 1997, according to a report released today by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The number of Hispanic American entering graduate students in science and engineering also declined, falling 18.2 percent during the same time period.
The report points to an "unwelcoming environment" for underrepresented minority graduate students as a contributing factor in the declines. While other factors may include students opting to enter the workforce instead of entering graduate school, the study revealed a set of common themes that point to a changing climate following recent policy changes affecting minority education such as the Hopwood v. State of Texas decision and the ruling of the Regents of the University of California. As a result, the report indicates, institutions are left with unclear guidelines on minority enrollment, leaving students discouraged from pursuing Ph.Ds in science and engineering.
"The federal government must make clear to institutions what they can and can't do," said Shirley Malcom, director of the AAAS Directorate for Education and Human Resources Programs. "The nation needs a coherent policy that not only addresses the lack of minority representation in these fields, but also provides a structure to ensure that the workforce mirrors the face of the population."
The report, entitled "Losing Ground: Science and Engineering Graduate Education of Black and Hispanic Americans," cautioned that declines in graduate enrollment in science and engineering could have a major impact on the diversity of the workforce in the 21st century. "As institutions debate what practices are appropriate and/or legal, underrepresented minority students are continuing to disappear from the pool of entering [science and engineering] graduate students," the report said.
The AAAS report was based on a study of the science and engineering graduate population of a sample of 93 major research universities. The survey was completed with funding by AAAS and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the cooperation of the Association of American Universities and the Council of Graduate Schools.
The institutions surveyed are among the top recipients of federal funds for research and development, which are also the top enrollees of minority graduate students and producers of minority Ph.Ds. Information was requested on the application, admission, and enrollments of U.S. citizens and permanent residents by race and ethnicity beginning with the year 1994,a year prior to most of the legal actions and judicial rulings, and extending through November 1997, as well as the policies related to the award of financial aid.
The report showed that graduate enrollment of African Americans in science and engineering remained relatively steady from 1994 to 1996. The drop in 1997 was not expected, considering the increase in baccalaureate degrees awarded to African Americans and Hispanic Americans over the previous years.
The report indicates that institutions are not equipped to address such drops. "The small numbers of such students, coupled with the decentralized nature of the graduate recruitment, application, admission and enrollment process, means that erosion of the base of underrepresented minority graduate students likely goes undetected in the institution," the report said. "The shifting policies related to targeted financial support for minority students reinforces the notion of an unwelcoming environment."
The report considered other possible factors for the decline in first-year graduate science and engineering enrollment, such as a shift in enrollment from graduate to professional school (especially medical school). This possibility was discounted because declines have been documented in the enrollment of African Americans and Hispanic Americans from the entering freshman classes at selective University of California campuses and from law schools and medical schools.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world's largest federation of scientists, works to advance science for human well-being through its projects, programs, and publications. With more than 146,000 members and 282 affiliated societies, AAAS conducts many programs in the areas of science policy, science education, and international scientific cooperation. AAAS publishes the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Science, as well as a number of electronic features on the World Wide Web.
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