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More Diversity Needed in Engineering Degrees

A new report finds more work is needed to ensure diversity in engineering bachelor's degrees to meet fast-growing demands in the labor market.

black female graduate

The number of students earning bachelor's degrees in engineering has tripled over a five-year period from 2011 to 2016, but challenges remain in getting Hispanic, Black, American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (NHPI) students to earn engineering degrees, according to a new study published by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. 

While number of Hispanic and Black students earning engineering degrees has grown by 79 percent and 35 percent respectively, the number of Hispanic and Black earning undergraduate degrees in engineering overall is small compared to the number of students earning engineering degrees overall. The number of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups (URG) earning master's and doctoral degrees in engineering also increased from 2011 to 2016, but it had little impact on the diversity of engineering graduates.

The report used data from the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) survey. This study compared data from the 2010-2011 and 2015-2016 academic years and was funded by a National Science Foundation grant.

"What was once primarily an issue of equity and equal opportunity is now an issue of economic vitality and national security. Broadening diversity in engineering is necessary for the tech sectors driving economic growth," the study found.

While the number of URG students is not ideal, non-U.S. residents are earning the majority of engineering master's degrees — at 58 percent in 2016. Over a five-year period starting in 2011, the number of non-U.S. residents earning master's degrees has risen by 12.5 percent points. More than one-third of all engineering master's degrees earned by non-U.S. residents were in electrical engineering.

"Typically, graduate engineering programs do not provide financial assistance to non-U.S. resident students, thus those students provide important talent that benefits engineering programs in numerous ways," according to the study.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Women earn the majority of master's degrees in each racial and ethnic group, except for engineering, where the percentage of degrees earned by women range from 26.8 percent for multi-racial graduates to 19.4 percent for White graduates.
  • There is a high concentration of engineering degrees for URGs and multi-racial students in a very small number of institutions. The top 10 producers of engineering degrees to Hispanic students conferred 25 percent of degrees to all Hispanic students, and among Black students, the top 10 producers conferred one out of five engineering degrees to all Black graduates.
  • Many colleges and universities with engineering programs have not conferred any degrees to AIAN and NHPI students. Sixty-eight percent of 433 colleges and universities with a reasonable engineering program did not confer any bachelor's degrees to AIAN students and 78 percent of those colleges did not confer any bachelor's degrees to NHPI students.
  • States with majority-minority or emerging majority-minority college-age populations are failing to educate a large enough share of their URG students in engineering.

The full APLU study can be found here.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe covering education policy and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.

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