Report Profiles College Faculty Working to Increase Latino STEM Participation

The Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California has been releasing a series of reports about the need to increase the number of Latinos in STEM careers. The studies are supported by the National Science Foundation, which wants to spur more Hispanics to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The most recent report, “Developing the Capacity of Faculty to Become Institutional Agents for Latinos in STEM,”  emphasizes that beyond special programs targeting Latinos, individual university leaders or faculty often make the difference in increasing enrollments. Researchers interviewed 60 representatives of two- and four- year Hispanic-Serving Institutions.

The report profiles two faculty members. The first is a university college of engineering dean who wanted to boost the number of Latino transfers from the local community college. He understood the students’ backgrounds because he, too was a first-generation Latino college student. He worked to bring together STEM faculty from the college and university to create a STEM curriculum and transfer agreement.

“Rather than focus solely upon fostering change at his own institution, [the dean] used his influence and authority to create a formal curriculum relationship between the two schools for the benefit of Latino students in the area,” the CUE report notes. “Curricular articulation agreements are notoriously difficult to draft because of academic governance practices and the sheer number of stakeholders involved; they thus require substantial commitment on the part of institutional leaders who must mobilize others to reach agreements and complete the necessary work.”

In a second case, the study mentions a mathematics professor and department chair at a four-year Hispanic-Serving Institution in the Southwest. He noticed fellow faculty were frustrated dealing with Latino students who struggled with lab work. He created a “Summer Lab Boot Camp,” to expose Latinos to computer science, biology, chemistry and physics labs. In addition to preparing them for lab classes before they enrolled, the program also created a sense of community.

“[He] understands that not all faculty members may have the patience, awareness, or interest to assist students who need the extra support,” the report says. “The program initiated students into the culture of science and gives them a headstart.”

The center makes a number of recommendations for program administrators including that faculty be rewarded who support Latino students, faculty be diverse, and that faculty include Latino students in undergraduate research opportunities or conference presentations; and that student data be disaggregated by ethnicity.

The science foundation is pushing forward its agenda to push more students into these majors. But The Washington Post recently highlighted that pushing them into PhD programs in these areas may not be the best idea, since there aren’t necessary jobs there. Not all STEM careers are created equal, and some tracks can be more lucrative than others, such as engineering.

Related Links:

– “Developing the Capacity of Faculty to Become Institutional Agents for Latinos in STEM.” Center for Urban Education. 

Student Debt Discourages Latinos from Enrolling in STEM Programs

The urgent need to increase the number of young people pursuing degrees in STEM areas–science, technology, engineering and math–is a hot topic in education circles. Especially during the current economic slump, having a bachelor’s and graduate degrees in these disciplines can have a better return on investment than other areas of study.

But how can you collect that return, if you can’t even afford to invest in a degree ? A recent report, Reducing Undergraduate Debt to Increase Latina and Latino Participation in STEM Professions, by the Center for Urban Education at the University of Southern California calls for changes in financial aid policy  that could increase the numbers of Latinos going into STEM careers. The study is the fourth in a series of reports funded by the National Science Foundation as part of an effort to increase Latinos’ access to STEM fields.

“We’ve seen some good news with the number of Latinos completing master’s and doctoral degrees but this critical demographic is still severely underrepresented among all STEM master’s and doctoral degree recipients,” said Lindsey E. Malcom, the report’s co-author.

The study’s authors say that Latino students’ tendency to borrow at high rates for their undergraduate education limits their ability to pursue a graduate education. The researchers found that Latinos graduating with high undergraduate debt when compared with others in their graduating class are 17 percent less likely than graduates with no debt to pursue further higher education within two years. The impact of debt on Latino students’ aspirations appears more severe than on other groups. Researchers say that in comparison, white, Asian or black students with high debt are 5-6 percent less likely to pursue graduate education. In addition, Latinos with low debt are also about 13.8 percent less likely to pursue higher-level degrees.

“For Latino students, who average higher levels of financial need than any other racial-ethnic group, a recurring concern has been that debt aversion, or a reluctance to borrow, constrains college choices and limits access to institutions with higher sticker prices, like privates and highly selective colleges and universities,” the study notes. “This is a particular concern because these same highly selective institutions often have more extensive and wide-ranging academic programs in STEM fields.”

The authors’ recommendations include expanding research assistant and work-study opportunities in STEM areas at colleges and universities serving large Latino enrollments, such as Hispanic serving institutions.

HSI’s that are granted federal Title V STEM funds also must be monitored to make sure they are successful in their efforts to promote Latino students’ success in the disciplines. The funding is partially meant to improve transfer rates from community colleges to four-year universities.

A previous report by the center found that very few Hispanics who hold bachelor’s degrees in STEM career areas had first earned an associate’s degree and then transferred. But the benefits of starting at a community college include lower student debt.

The report’s co-authors also urged the need to grow the federal Pell grant program, keep interest rates steady and disaggregate student loan debt data by race and ethnicity.

When you report on the issue, request data on the number of Latinos enrolled in undergraduate and graduate-level STEM programs from your local colleges and universities. Then ask the institutions if they have any initiatives to increase the numbers of Hispanics enrolled in the programs.

You can also turn to organizations such as the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering as resources and The National Math and Science Initiative.

Related Links:

“Reducing Undergraduate Debt to Increase Latina and Latino Participation in STEM Professions.” Center for Urban Education.

“Are Hispanics America’s Next Great STEM Innovators?” Forbes. 

“Grant to Promote STEM fields for Hispanic/Latino K-12 students.” Georgia Tech Newsroom and The Goizueta Foundation.

“Increasing Access of Underrepresented Groups to High-Quality, Career-Readying Science, Technology and Mathematics Education.” Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.