Latinos Take Longer to Attain STEM Doctoral Degrees

The years of study required and the steep tuition costs for students pursuing doctoral degrees can be daunting.

Some new research by the Center for STEM Education and Innovation at the American Institutes for Research concludes that Latino and black students tend to take longer to complete their doctoral degrees in science, technology, engineering and math fields than white and Asian students.

“These findings are troublesome because they result in minority students in graduate STEM programs experiencing more of the financial and personal burdens of a graduate education relative to non-minority students,” the study says.

The researchers used the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates from 1989-90 to the 2008-09 school years. They looked at degree earners in engineering, mathematics, computer and information sciences, biological/biomedical sciences, physical sciences and agricultural sciences. They also only considered U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

The median time to completion in STEM fields in 2009 was 6.7 years for Latinos, 6.8 years for black students and 6.3 years for non underrepresented minorities such as white and Asian students. The median time to completion has been decreasing across all groups since 1990, although Hispanics have changed less than other groups.

The study also examined how other factors impacted the time to completion for different demographic groups, including the field of study, whether students first completed a master’s degree, student debt levels, how their education was funded and whether they had dependents.

Some other interesting data from the study:

– Latino male students took longer to complete their degrees. The median time for Latino male students was 6.7 years, and for females it was 6.5 years.

– The time to completion varied depending on the study area. In computer and information sciences, the median time for Hispanics was 8.4 years. In engineering, it was 6.7 years.

– For Latino students who completed a master’s degree prior to their Ph.D, the median was 7.0 years, versus 5.8 years for those who did not first receive a master’s degree.

– Latino students carrying heavier graduate school debt took longer to complete. Hispanic students with more than $30,000 of debt took a median of 7.7 years to complete. Latino students with no debt took a median of 6.3 years–essentially the same as all the demographics groups carrying no debt.

– Outside family obligations also impacted the time to completion. Married Latino students with dependents took a median time of 7.5 years to complete, compared with 6.3 years for never married Latino students with no dependents.

– Whether the students’ parents had attended college did not make as much of an impact. Latino students with parents who did not attend took a median time of 6.7 years, versus 6.5 years for those whose parents did attend college.

Related Links:

– “Study: Blacks and Latinos Take Longer to Complete STEM Doctoral Degrees.” National Journal. 

– “How Long Does It Take? STEM PhD Completion for Underrepresented Minorities.” The Center for STEM Education and Innovation at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). 

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