For years college science, technology, engineering and math departments have worked on attracting more minority students, especially black and Latino, to join their programs. There is a sizable gap between the amount of white STEM graduates and STEM graduates of color.
However, the problem is not just with attracting students to STEM majors. There is also an issue with keeping them there.
According to a study done on 5,600 black, Latino and white college students in 2003-4 by the National Center for Education Statistics, 19 percent of white, 20 percent of Latino and 18 percent of black students declared STEM majors. These seemingly similar percentages change when it comes to students who stay with their original STEM degree. While only 29 percent of white students transfer out of STEM programs, 37 percent of Latino students and 40 percent of black students do not graduate with a STEM degree that they originally intended to obtain or any degree at all.
The issue is not in lack of interest in science, technology, engineering and math topics. There is a large majority of minorities at the High School level that are passionate about STEM. So, where does the problem lie?
Associate professor at the University of Texas at Austins Department of Curriculum and Instruction Catherine Riegle-Crumb led a study on this issue. Riegle-Crumb said that the divide can largely be credited to descrimination and bias in science and technology fields.
Riegle-Crumb found that the presence of descrimination and bias often cripples the success of Latino and black students achieving their goals in STEM. There is lower amount of minorities graduating in STEM majors which, in turn, means less minorities in STEM careers. This issue makes it difficult for minority students to find mentors of color to lead them through the rigorous process of reaching their STEM career goals.
Darryl Dickerson, associate director of the minority engineering program at Purdue and president of the National Association of Multicultural Engineering Program Advocates, commented on the results of the study. He said that he was not shocked by the results and thinks that there is a flaw in the mindset of college admissions. Dickerson feels that universities need to focus more on retention than recruitment.
If colleges are able to keep Latino and black students on their original STEM paths, and remove the racial bias and descrimination that is currently found in STEM degrees and careers, the minority gap amongst STEM professionals will start to close over time.