Higher education drives STEM diversity, but is the change fast enough?

For more than a decade, Keith Harmon has helped to overlook a rare history of success in higher education.

Harmon is director of the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program, an initiative that began 30 years ago at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. She has helped the university to make serious progress and close the equity gaps in STEM education.

The idea behind the program is simple. With the right support, ie the feeling of community and regular counseling, students who are not well represented in the STEM can continue their education and career. “We hope they expect a lot from themselves,” Harmon said. “There are high expectations, but they also have many resources.”

So far, it works with the program, which has more than 1,300 alumni, so Harmon, and studies, which show that participants complete 5.3 times more frequently a master’s or doctoral studies in STEM areas and complete. (The program, which is open to applicants from all fields, enrolls the majority of students with low representation).

The Meyerhoff program is just one of many that aims to increase diversity in STEM. Efforts like these have been crucial to attracting more Hispanic and black students in these areas, but further progress is needed. According to a recent report by the American Council of Education (ACE), black and Hispanic students are still far behind their peers when completing STEM programs.

The black students face obstacles especially when graduating, the researchers said, as they were among the least-qualified students and graduated from STEM. Only 12.6% of black students who graduated in 2016 did so with a STEM specialization compared to 34.7% of Asian students and 20.5% of white students.

The graduate program showed similar differences: 6.2% of black students graduated with a master’s degree in STEM in 2016, compared to 22.9% for Asian students and 10.7% for white students. In the same year, black students were also under-represented in the STEM doctoral programs, with 13.8% graduating in these areas, compared with 51.9% of Asian and 35.5% of Asian students. white students

The Hispanic students were doing a little better, although they were still behind other groups. In 2016, 16.7% of the beneficiaries of the study and 9.2% of the beneficiaries of the Master’s degree program earned a STEM degree. In the doctoral programs, the STEM performance of Hispanic students was much higher at 30.7% in these areas.

It is noteworthy that students who identify themselves as Indians from America, as well as natives of Hawaii or other Pacific Islands, had a lower level of achievement in all areas.

The reasons for these gaps are many, but the main reason is the lack of access to quality education. The data shows that K-12 schools, which service a larger number of minority students, tend to receive fewer resources than those that serve primarily white students. This can have lasting effects as many students leave these schools without preparing for the rigors of STEM programs at the university.

Black and Hispanic students also face well-established stereotypes which groups of students in the STEM are good, possibly leading to less expectation among teachers. To reinforce this problem, there is a lack of black and Hispanic trainers in MINT training.

Faced with these issues, universities and organizations across the country recognize that higher education is failing Hispanic and black students, and that STEM programs need more support to meet them.

A sense of belonging

The configuration of some STEM introductory classes stacks cards against minorities that have little representation since the beginning of the university.

On the one hand, a record number of students are flooding the introductory computer courses to meet the high salaries of the needs area. This led to a shortage of qualified instructors to teach these classes, which spurred some universities to run them as “excretion courses” rather than providing more support to students.

Many introductory courses also assume that college students were already involved in computer science in high school, which may not be the case with some underrepresented students, said Michael Ellison, CEO and founder of CodePath.org, a nonprofit organization developed a computer curriculum for colleges and students in the United States

Such expectations may cause minority students considering STEM specialization to change their minds and change their program or fail altogether. In fact, the retention rates in such programs may be low because most students leave under-represented groups before they graduate, according to CodePath.org.

The completion of the university, regardless of the specialization, is also an area that needs to be improved. According to the ACE report, less than half of black students (44.5%), Hispanics (42.5%), and Native Americans or Alaska Natives (37.1%) completed a bachelor’s degree, compared to 57 , 2% of students white and 63.7% of Asians.

To address these issues, CodePath.org has developed computer science courses that complement the existing university curriculum and provide underserved students with skills built on the needs of leading technology companies.

The company has designed the courses to be turnkey, so instructors do not have to be technical experts to run the courses, Ellison said. So far, the nonprofit organization has partnered with more than 25 colleges, including the University of Arizona, Virginia Tech, and Mount Holyoke College, to provide students with project-based training ranging from preparation for interviews to camps. Technician to the design of mobile applications.

Universities have made similar efforts to link the industry to the curriculum to enhance the success of STEM students. For example, Howard University is part of the Google in Residence program, which is leading technology giant software engineers to teach introductory computer courses at historically black colleges (HBCU).

Harry Keeling, a professor of computer science at Howard University, said that the program has encouraged many students to stay in computer science and has asked other students to switch to specialization.

The university also ran a pilot program called Howard West in 2017, which sent 26 students to Google headquarters in California for three months of hands-on learning. If successful, it has been upgraded to a program called Tech Exchange, which will host 65 students and several faculty members from HBCUs and Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI) for a full academic year on the Google campus.

This kind of experience can be crucial for students to feel they belong to the STEM fields, Keeling said.

“The students do not feel ready to cope with the rigors of the race,” Keeling said. “When they work with individuals on Google and realize that these people are not smarter than they are (and) not more professional than they are, they begin to understand that they deserve good jobs and are more motivated.”

Level the playing field

Congress also plays an important role in closing gaps in STEM student achievement.

Under the Higher Education Act, for example, some higher education institutions may receive competitive grants to create better transfer channels for community colleges interested in 4-year colleges in STEM disciplines. This has contributed significantly to increasing the number of Hispanic students seeking graduation, said Antonio Flores, president and CEO of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU).

In addition to permanently consolidating the program and increasing its resources, the HACU is urging Congress to allocate more funds to the HSI. The HACU argues that HSI receives about two-thirds of the funding received by other universities from state sources per student, although it serves more than 2 million Hispanic students who are disproportionate in the first generation and low-income.

“That’s a big gap if you only get two-thirds of what others get when the people you serve are among the most needy,” Flores said. “We just want them to equate the pitch.”