News Column

Hispanics Wanted in STEM Careers

May 13, 2013
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Analysts predict that in order for the United States to remain competitive worldwide in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), it will have to train approximately one million more STEM professionals over the next 10 years. That means the U.S. will have to increase the number of students earning these degrees by about a third of the students in STEM training, according to the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology report released in 2012.

The reason the United Slates is playing catchup with the rest of the world is due to the fact that we have one of the lowest rates of STEM to non-STEM bachelor's degree production worldwide. The roots to this low rate can be found in a 2008 study that showed that as recently as 10 years ago STEM accounted for 17 percent of all degrees awarded in the United States compared to the international average of 26 percent. This puts colleges and universities under enormous pressure to increase their STEM population and degree earners.

Now need has humped up against demographics in academia. With an eye toward the burgeoning Hispanic population, colleges and universities are trying to understand why more Hispanics aren't attracted to STEM careers and what can be done to encourage them to enter these fields. In a white paper prepared and updated in 2012 for the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) titled. Overview of Hispanics in Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology (STEM): K- 1 6 Representation, Preparation and Participation, University of Texas-San Antonio authors Gloria Crisp and Amaury Nora paint a picture of current Hispanic STEM career aspirants and what has to be overcome to encourage more Hispanics to pursue STEM training.

Crisp and Nora preface their white paper painting this compelling picture of what exists and what needs to change. They state, "The demand for skilled workers in STEM fields will be difficult, if not impossible, to meet if the nation's future mathematicians, scientists, engineers, information technologists, computer programmers, and health care workers do not reflect the diversity of the population (Institute for Higher Education Policy, IHEP, 2010). Hispanics are the fastest-growing and youngest group in the United States. It is estimated that Hispanics will comprise 30 percent of the U.S. population by 2040 and will he the majority group in several states (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008). At the same time however, Hispanic students are underrepresented in STEM fields (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2010). Increasing the percentage of Hispanics and other traditionally underrepresented minorities in STEM occupations is not only ethically and morally correct, as these groups deserve equal access to STEM fields, but allows minority groups to serve as role models and mentors for younger members of their own ethnic/racial group."

What has masked the gap in Hispanic STEM career aspirants is deceptive enrollment figures. Hispanic students have been shown to be just as likely as White students to major in STEM, but their numbers drop dramatically when it comes to completing those degrees. The white paper explains, ''According to data from the Higher Education Research Institute (2010), 16 percent of Hispanic students who began college in 2004 as STEM majors completed a STEM degree by 2009, compared to 25 percent of While sluden is."

Academics and researchers see MinorityServing Institutions (MSIs) as important vehicles to encourage Hispanics to not only choose STEM careers, but also complete their degrees. Crisp and Nora see Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) as particularly important in this regard stating that HSIs "have the potential to increase the number of STEM degrees awarded to Hispanic students, as about half of all Hispanic undergraduate students currently attend Hispanic- Serving Institutions (Dowd, Malcolm, & Bensimon, 2009) and 40 percent of the undergraduate degrees awarded to Hispanics are granted by HSIs (Dowd, Malcolm & Macias, 2010). Further, a fifth of all bachelor's degrees awarded to TTi span ic students in STEM majors are from HSIs (Dowd, Malcolm & Macias, 2010). It should be noted that due to the large concentration of Hispanic students in community colleges, over half (53 percent) of all HSIs are community colleges."

There are many external factors that affect the choices Hispanic students make when they choose a career path. Early interest in science, math, technology or engineering needs to be recognized, cultivated and encouraged in K- 12 schools, or HSIs aren't nearly as effective in nurturing STEM career choices. But tliat is only one consideration. Money can also be a factor in the decision to choose a STEM career or not. Crisp and Nora explain, "Financial concerns, family responsibilities and full-time work commitments have all been shown to be factors external to die college that 'pull' Hispanic students away from STEM fields. Because science, engineering and mathematics degrees often take longer to complete than other college majors, financial aid takes on added importance in relaining student; in those programs. Furthermore, working fulltime may serve to decrease the likelihood that Hispanic and African American students will persist in a STEM major as undergraduates,"

Once Hispanics choose a STEM career, it's up to die college to provide die type of experience that will make that choice successful for the student in their charge. The authors of the HACU white paper point to the following college experiences as ones that increase the odds of successful completion of a degree: 1) participating in an undergraduate research program, 2) participating in a club related to students' major, 3) time spent studying alone or with others, 4) engagement with faculty, 5) academic advising from upper-classmen, 6) enrolling in key gatekeeper courses during the first year, and 7) aspirations toward attending medical school.

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Source: Copyright Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

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