•Reforming the visa process for international students, who can contribute to the nation's research through graduate study;
•Identifying best practices for reducing attrition among underrepresented grad students in science, technology, engineering, and math; and
•Shortening the time needed to complete a graduate degree.
"We believe graduate degrees are the best form of technology transfer, and we believe it's essential to solicit employer input in what we do," says Debra Stewart, the council's president. "It's important to sort out what kind of involvement is helpful. Clearly, the faculty can design the curriculum. On the other hand, employers can be helpful in telling us what kind of breadth they need in new employees."
Minority enrollment is growing most rapidly in graduate schools, she adds, but many of those students drop out. "If we want people coming to graduate schools, we need to find ways not only of getting them in but also of leaving with degrees," Ms. Stewart says.
Barriers to completion include the quality of mentoring, family and life circumstances, characteristics of the study fields, including work-life balance, and intellectual engagement with the field. A new type of master's degree – a professional science master's – may help to move students through graduate school faster and better. Students in these programs study not only their field, but also business project management, patent law and working in culturally diverse teams, among other disciplines.
"The students who go into these PSM programs know what they want," says Carol Lynch, director of the council's professional science master's initiative. "Though they know they like the field, they don't want to do pure research or go into academia, and they save time by not having to also get a master's of business administration."
The first professional science master's program was established in 1997 at Harvey Mudd College, one of the Claremont colleges in California. PSM programs have grown slowly to 100 offered at 50 universities, with all programs combining business and science, and nearly all of them requiring an internship. The California State University system most recently received $891,000 from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to start 16 PSM programs in the next three years at 12 of its 23 campuses.
Although the programs attract a higher percentage of domestic students than traditional master's programs, overall they're not doing as well as desired at graduating minority students. Out of a total of 1,315 students in PSM programs funded by the Sloan Foundation in December 2005, only 109 were Hispanic, African American, or Native American.
"One thing we know about Hispanic master's students is they don't like debt and are more likely to see college debt as [too] large, compared with the view of other students," Ms. Lynch says. The graduate-schools council is considering developing targeted financial aid for minorities to get past this hump. The result could be a larger talent pool – and another challenge for business.
"At one end is businesses' compliance with equal-opportunity law," says Mr. Casellas, the former head of the EEOC. "At the other end, we have to think about how we leverage the diversity of the people we already have to make other people want to work for us, and how we use diversity to break into new markets."
Mr. Prout says the best preparation for U.S.-born Hispanics is to "join global companies and get that international experience."
Be prepared, as well, for a lifetime of change.
"The real challenge for us will come as American corporations begin to look at the vast economic opportunities in China," Mr. Betances says. "It will require vision on the part of non-Hispanics not to pigeonhole us as only able to work with Latino markets."
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