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Report: Minority-Serving Schools Well Positioned to Fill STEM Workforce Gap

group of African American college students

A group of higher education, government, nonprofit and business leaders believes that minority-serving colleges and universities are well positioned to serve as a "greater resource" for meeting U.S. STEM workforce needs. What's needed is more "attention" and "investment" to steer this diverse set of students to science, technology, engineering and math fields.

"Minority Serving Institutions: America's Underutilized Resource for Strengthening the STEM Workforce," published by the National Academies, offered "promising strategies" for supporting students attending MSIs in STEM.

According to the report, about 700 two- and four-year MSIs educate almost 30 percent of all U.S. undergraduates and about a fifth of STEM bachelor's degree holders. These institutions fall into two primary groups. The first includes Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal Colleges and Universities, both of which were established to provide a specific minority access to higher ed. The second group includes schools such as Hispanic Serving Institutions that are designated as MSIs by the U.S. Department of Education because they meet certain thresholds of the number of students of color enrolled; this particular group has "grown significantly" in number over the past two decades, the report noted, and is expected to continue growing as U.S. demographics evolve.

In general, minority-serving institutions tend to have "markedly fewer" financial resources than non-MSIs, the report asserted, which weakens their capacity for innovation and experimentation with new programs intended to boost STEM learning outcomes, let alone to evaluate or replicate those initiatives that prove effective.

Despite their limited resources, however, "MSIs have been successful in providing a multifaceted return on investment for students, communities and the STEM workforce," the authors wrote. "With targeted funding, attention and support, [MSIs] can contribute much more." Given the projected demographic profile of the country, "the educational outcomes and STEM readiness of students of color will have direct implications on the nation's economic growth, national security and global prosperity."

The committee that produced the report did a review of research, examined existing data and did site visits to nine MSIs. From that input, it developed "seven broad strategies" with the "greatest promise" for bolstering both the quality of STEM education and workforce preparation for MSI students. Those included having "dynamic, multilevel, mission-driven leaders" who can articulate a vision and "hold themselves accountable" for developing the needed capital, educational resources and services for meeting the needs of their student bodies; creating tailored academic and social supports, such as summer bridge programs and extra instruction to help students through their college careers; meeting the particular needs of their student body; and creating strong mentoring, research experiences and sponsorship.

Money's also a requirement. That should include long-term commitments by federal and state governments, tribal nations and philanthropic and private sectors, the report insisted. This funding could help MSIs recruit and keep "high-quality faculty," build and maintain "state-of-the-art laboratories and facilities," deliver student support and pursue access to grants and contracts "that fuel important research discoveries and innovation."

But the solution doesn't solely lie outside of MSIs; they need to take on more responsibility, the report urged, particularly in hiring "bold" leaders and committing to innovation, with or without outside funding.

"It is our hope," the authors concluded, "that this study will incentivize the adoption of evidence-based approaches to support and advance STEM education and workforce outcomes for the tens of millions of students enrolled at two- and four-year MSIs."

The report is available in multiple formats, including as a free digital copy, on the National Academies website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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