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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SHPE Promotes Science Awareness Among Latino Parents

College-educated Latino professionals are working to promote STEM education through the Noche de Ciencias (Science Night) program.

In 2008, the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) Foundation launched a national campaign, encouraging its student and professional chapters throughout the nation to reach out to K-12 students. The programming is typically held during Hispanic Heritage Month every year and emphasizes the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

The program provides hands-on learning activities, promotes awareness about college programs, and provides Spanish and English language parent workshops. The organization provides resources online for organizing a science night, complete with presentations and lesson plans.

An event was recently held at Dunbar High School in the Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington, Kentucky. The professional and student chapter worked together on the program.

“The main goal is for them to learn as much as they can while also having fun,” said high school junior Erika Nunez, a member of the SHPE student chapter, in a story published on the district’s web site. “It’s a lot of help to have the parents and students on the same page, and we can answer all their questions in one night.”

Should more professional organizations be involved in the public schools? In particular, what are Hispanic professional organizations doing to reach out to young people? Do your districts partner with any similar organizations?

Related Links:

– “‘Noche de Ciencias’ promotes STEM, college routes.” Fayette County Public Schools. Lexington, Kentucky. 

– “Noche de Ciencias (Science Night).” SHPE Foundation. 

Illinois Suburbs Grapple With Latino Achievement Gap

Achievement gaps persist for Latino students living in the Chicago suburbs, The Daily Herald reports. The newspaper bases those conclusions on the 2012 Illinois state report cards, released this week.

The newspaper’s report included analyzing the test scores of Latino students at 27 high schools in the Northwest Illinois suburbs. About 38 percent of Latino students met or exceeded the state reading standards and about 40 percent did in math. By comparison, about 60 percent of all students in the Northwest suburbs meet or exceed standards in math, reading and science.

Some suburbs are focusing on creating career centers at high schools to improve student outcomes. For example, Wheeling High School in the suburbs created a STEM–science, technology, engineering and mathematics–program that has resulted in improved test scores.

About half of the school’s students are Latino. The newspaper reports that about 56.3 percent of Wheeling High’s Latino students met or exceeded math standards in 2012, about 20 points above the state average for Latinos.

“A growing percentage of our workforce population are Hispanic in this state and nationwide,” Wheeling principal Lazaro Lopez told the Herald. “We need them to be as educated and successful as their non-Hispanic counterparts because it’s going to have a direct impact on our economy.”

Related Links:

– “School report cards: Hispanic ‘achievement gap.” Daily Herald.

– Wheeling High School.

Report Names Top 25 Colleges Graduating Latinos in STEM Fields

A new report by the advocacy group Excelencia in Education found that Latinos earned just eight percent of all the degrees and certificates awarded in STEM-related professions in 2009-10.

STEM represents concentrations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Of the degrees awarded to Latinos, about 60 percent were at the bachelor’s level. Hispanics were also much more likely to pursue certificates, and much less likely to earn graduate degrees.

The Excelencia report is part of a series called “Finding Your Workforce,” which is identifying colleges graduating the most Latinos within specific disciplines. Excelencia stresses that business leaders will need an educated Latino workforce for the United States to remain competitive.

In the most recent study, the organization named the top 25 colleges and universities most successful in graduating the highest numbers of Latinos in STEM. The top schools were located in just six states, in addition to Puerto Rico— Texas, Florida, California, Arizona, Illinois and New Mexico. Most of the schools are public and are Hispanic Serving Institutions, which must have an undergraduate enrollment that is at least 25 percent Latino.

Excelencia found that Latinos tended to be concentrated in lower-paying STEM professions such as service technicians and were not as well represented in higher-paying jobs such as engineering.

The group ranked the top 25 schools broken out by discipline and degree level–certificates, associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorates.

The report also highlighted a number of programs working to increase Latino representation in STEM, and how they’re working to do so and their levels of success. For example, the Jaime Escalante Math & Science Program at East Los Angeles Community College aims to continue the famous teacher’s mission by providing inner-city youth access to challenging Advanced Placement calculus courses. The Mathematics Intensive Summer Session at California State University provides intensive math courses to high school girls during the summer.

The top schools in awarding bachelor’s degrees are as follows:

Biological/Biomedical Sciences: the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez with 254 graduates (second was the University of Texas-Pan American with 176)

Physical Sciences: the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras (67), with the highest school in the United States being Florida International University (51)

Computer/Information Systems: Atlantic College in Puerto Rico (148), with the highest school in the United States being University of Phoenix-Online (96).

Engineering: University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez (629), with the highest U.S. school being Florida International University at 190

Mathematics: University of Texas at El Paso (29)

If you’re a reporter, page through to see if your local school is on the list. The programs that are working to increase the numbers of Latinos in STEM tracks also could be worth a feature story.

Related Links:

– “Finding Your Workforce: the top 25 institutions graduating Latinos in STEM– 2009-10.” 

– “Nation’s Top Colleges for producing Latino STEM graduates.” Learning the Language blog. Education Week.

– “Study: Few Latinos Obtained PhD’s in STEM.” Hispanically Speaking News.

– “Top 25 institutions graduating Latinos in STEM Fields.” NBC Latino.

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. 

Three Programs That are Promoting STEM Education Among Latinos

There’s lots of talk about the urgent need to improve Latino students’ math and science performance . But what programs exist that help Latino students pursue the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics?

“We’re really focusing on the Hispanic community because of the education statistics we see for our students and where we will be as a nation if we don’t address these students.” said Rudy Reyna, executive director of the Pre-Freshman Engineering Program based in San Antonio. “These students are such a critical resource for the future of the nation.”

Here are a few programs that I learned about during a presentation by the Hispanic STEM Initiative at the College Board’s recent “Preparate” conference. The initiative’s members might be good resources for reporters looking to write about this topic.

♦ Parent Institute for Quality Education: The PIQE organization recently piloted a STEM awareness class for parents in Stockton, Calif. About 75 percent of parents participating in PIQE programs are Spanish-speaking. During the classes, parents were made aware of and encouraged to get their children involved with STEM-related school clubs and math competitions.

“They get to hear what their children would be earning if they went into these fields,” said
David Valladolid, president and CEO of PIQE. “They’re learning the preparation. Parents leave the classes with a full list of classes their children need to take.”

♦  PREP-USA (University of Texas at San Antonio): Middle and high school students take part in a seven-week summer learning Pre-Freshman Engineering Program on college campuses, where they can earn elective high school credits. Courses include problem solving, technical writing, water science and computer science. The program also takes place in other areas of the state, including Dallas, Houston and Laredo.

♦ MESA (Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement): This California program works on preparing a pipeline of STEM students beginning in middle school and carrying through college. About 60 percent of the student participants are Latino, said executive director Oscar Porter. The schools program is dedicated to year-round support for middle school and high school students.

The community college program focuses on supporting students at the college level, improving their skills in calculus-based majors and encouraging them to transfer to universities. Finally, the engineering program works on students at four-year institutions. MESA leaders say that the high school participants have a college-going rate of 70 percent, much higher than the state average.

Related Links:

Parent Institute for Quality Education (PIQE)

Prefreshman Engineering Program (PREP)

Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement (MESA) 

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.