Apr. 1, 2009 A new report released by AAAS shows that efforts over the past decade to boost minority participation in the sciences and engineering have been successful. Analysis of Ph.D. recipients from universities participating in a program to increase underrepresented minorities in science-related studies revealed that from 2001 through 2008 the annual number of Ph.D.s awarded to underrepresented minorities in science and technical fields increased by 33.9%.
The number of Ph.D.s increased across all U.S. citizens and permanent residents, but the size of the percentage increases were dramatically larger for underrepresented minorities. The average annual number of Ph.D.s awarded to underrepresented minorities in all science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields increased from 623 to 834, a 33.9% increase. When looking at the natural sciences and engineering fields alone, the increase was even greater: 382 to 573, a 50% increase.
"We all want to do things that work. We're looking for programs and strategies that can make a difference," said Shirley Malcom, head of AAAS Education and Human Resources programs. "We have had low numbers that have been languishing. So finally, here's some good news about a set of institutions that have set out to increase the participation of minorities within the sciences and they've done it."
The Ph.D. recipients earned their degrees at 66 universities participating in the Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP), a program funded by the National Science Foundation to increase the number of underrepresented minority students—African Americans, Alaskan Natives, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Pacific Islanders—pursuing careers in STEM disciplines and entering the faculty. The 66 participating universities formed partnerships, called alliances, to share resources and increase networking. They developed new approaches to identify, recruit, and mentor minority students in doctoral programs.
Since AGEP's inception in 1998, AAAS has received NSF grants to track the progress of the program and suggest directions for improvement. AAAS also works with AGEP grant recipients to help them build the capacity to assess their own performance and identify where improvements can be made.
"What's different about this program is that it is about changing the strategies and the processes that institutions are using to recruit and support underrepresented minorities," said Yolanda George, deputy director of AAAS Education and Human Resources programs. "This is more of a program targeted at getting institutional changes."
With researchers from Campbell-Kibler Associates—a consulting firm specializing in gender and race equity in STEM—George analyzed doctorate recipient data from 2000/2001 through 2007/2008 at the 66 AGEP institutions. AAAS and Campbell-Kibler are supported by an NSF grant to develop an evaluation framework and guidebook for examining graduate student progression to the Ph.D. The grant also provided funds for meetings between AGEP officials and participating institutions.
In the new study, AAAS and Campbell-Kibler researchers examined conferral of doctorates in STEM, including in the social and behavioral sciences, such as sociology, psychology and political science.
George presented the results with Patricia Campbell, president of Campbell-Kibler Associates, at the AAAS-organized 18-21 March AGEP national conference in Chicago, where participants shared strategies and ideas about evaluating graduate education programs. The conference attracted 102 participants, who were primarily AGEP principal investigators and AGEP project staff such as deans and provosts.
George and Campbell described how some of the AGEP universities did especially well in increasing doctorates awarded to underrepresented minorities. The nine alliance campuses at the University of California, for instance, accounted for nearly 25% of the increase in the average annual number of Ph.D.s awarded to underrepresented minorities by the 66 AGEP universities. On the University of California, Berkeley campus, 57 Ph.D.s were awarded in 2007/2008 to underrepresented minorities in STEM fields, and the Los Angeles campus awarded 39.
Of the handful of minority-serving institutions participating in AGEP, in 2007/2008 Howard University produced 37 STEM underrepresented minority Ph.D.s and the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras and Mayaguez produced 30.
James H. Wyche, director of the Division of Human Resource Development at the National Science Foundation, pointed out that AGEP institutions accounted for 56% of all STEM doctoral degrees awarded to underrepresented minorities in the United States in 2005-2006. "The National Science Foundation's AGEP program is making important contributions of the nation's science and engineering workforce," Wyche said. "We are proud of this impressive achievement."
George said that the AGEP program prods university administrators into thinking differently about how graduate students are recruited, supported, and mentored to the Ph.D. and is trying to get graduate schools to be more deliberate about how they recruit and retain underrepresented minorities. During her many visits with university deans during the 10 years that she's worked on the program, George said that many deans often say that they have not had to recruit students for Ph.D. programs
"We can get some changes," she said, "if we can get graduate school and department administrators to think more about strategies, processes, and use of graduate student data to recruit and retain students in Ph.D. programs."
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