Twenty-first century advances require the United States to expand its science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-capable workforce, both in terms of the quantity and diversity of the individuals who enter these fields and in the quality of their contributions. In fact, evidence suggests that the nation will need 1 million more STEM professionals than it is on track to produce in the coming decade.
Fortunately, the United States has two valuable and underutilized resources to help ensure its global preeminence in STEM productivity and innovation. The first national resource is the more than 20 million young people of color1 in the United States whose representation in STEM education pathways and in the STEM workforce is still far below their proportions of the general population. The impact of this underrepresentation is critical to understand, given the imminent transition toward a non-White majority in the United States. A clear takeaway from the projected demographic profile of the nation is that the educational outcomes and STEM readiness of students of color will have direct implications on America’s economic growth, national security, and global prosperity. Accordingly, there is an urgent national need to develop strategies to substantially increase the postsecondary and STEM degree attainment rates of Hispanic, African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, and underrepresented Asian American students.
1 This number represents 15- to 24- year olds and includes residents of Hispanic and non-Hispanic origin, excluding non-Hispanic Whites, U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population by Sex, Age, Race, and Hispanic Origin for the United States and States: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2017.
Efforts to boost the number of students of color in the STEM workforce are not new. Previous studies conducted by the National Academies and other organizations have underscored this urgency. This new study builds on and extends that work by recognizing the educational and economic contributions of a second national resource, the nation’s more than 700 Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) and their collective potential to help strengthen, expand, and diversify the rapidly evolving STEM workforce.
Two- and four-year MSIs enroll almost 5 million students, or nearly 30 percent of all undergraduates enrolled in U.S. higher education. Although these institutions have long provided pathways to educational success and workforce readiness for millions of nontraditional students and students of color (e.g., African American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Hispanic, and underrepresented Asian American students), their contributions to STEM education and the workforce are often overlooked. In fact, more undergraduate students (from all backgrounds) are enrolled in STEM fields at four-year MSIs than at four-year non-MSIs, and when taken together, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions produce one-fifth of the nation’s STEM bachelor’s degrees.2 Moreover, the individual contributions of these institutions to STEM degree completions (measured as a proportion of all completions) are on par with non-MSIs. In terms of student outcomes, a growing body of literature demonstrates that students who matriculate at MSIs do as well, or even better, than those who attended non-MSIs, particularly when it comes to individual income mobility. This evidence suggests that MSIs are valuable resources for producing talent to fulfill the needs of the nation’s current and future STEM workforce. See Box S-1 for an overview of MSIs and their students.
In response to the nation’s need to strengthen, expand, and diversify its STEM-capable workforce, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have undertaken a series of efforts, including creation of the Committee on Closing the Equity Gap, to focus on securing the nation’s STEM education and workforce readiness infrastructure in MSIs. The sponsors of this study, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the ECMC Foundation, the Helmsley Charitable Trust, the Wallace Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, charged the committee to review the goals, successes, and challenges of MSIs and to identify the most promising programs and effective strategies that they use to increase the quantity and quality of their STEM graduates. In accordance with the statement of task, this report provides an overview of the seven federally recognized types of MSIs,
2 Based on most recently available data from 2016.
describes MSIs’ student populations, reviews the nation’s current investments in MSIs, and examines what works at MSIs, particularly the under-resourced MSIs, to overcome long-standing challenges and expand educational opportunities for their students. Much has been written about the nation’s MSIs in the past three decades, including numerous reports on the challenges that these institutions face. In contrast, this committee also examined the evidence base behind effective strategies and practices used by many MSIs to overcome those challenges and, by doing so, expand educational opportunities for their students.
PROMISING PRACTICES AND STRATEGIES TO SUPPORT THE SUCCESS OF MSI STUDENTS
In its review of MSIs’ most promising programs, policies, and practices to support their students, the committee identified a common thread that distinguishes the most successful efforts from other initiatives: intentionality. For purposes of this report, the committee defines intentionality as a calculated and coordinated method of engagement by institutions, agencies, organizations, and private investors to effectively meet the needs of a designated population within a given higher education institution. Intentionality in this context translates to the creation of tailored initiatives, policies, and practices that meet students where they are in their college careers academically, financially, and socially, while doing so with cultural mindfulness that moves students toward higher levels of academic achievement and self-confidence.
With intentionality as an overarching principle, and with a deliberate focus on what works at MSIs, the committee explored how this principle manifests itself in programs currently implemented at these institutions. These selected programmatic, institutional, and/or national initiatives are highlighted throughout the report, with particular emphasis on six programs that serve as illustrative examples: (1) Achieving the Dream, (2) the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, (3) A Student-Centered ENtrepreneurship Development (ASCEND) program, (4) the Building Infrastructure Leading to Diversity initiative, (5) the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation program, and (6) Math Engineering Science Achievement.
The diversity of the programs reviewed, in terms of structure, scale, goals, and funding, demonstrates that there is no one-size-fits-all formula to foster success. In reviewing the strategies and programs in this report, established MSIs may find new ideas for initiatives that complement their efforts to recruit and retain students, while newly emerging MSIs can become aware of the most effective strategies to support the success of their rapidly changing student demographic.
The sources of evidence reviewed by the committee included results from a commissioned literature search, conducted by the study’s consultants at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions; findings resulting from discussions at nine MSI site visits; expert testimony and presentations of data and information at two open session meetings; and committee members’ own research expertise and experiences working with and on MSI campuses. These varied sources notwithstanding, one of the most challenging aspects of this study was to contend with the limited available evidence on the effectiveness of programs to bolster student success at MSIs. MSIs, like other institutions, implement an eclectic mix of evidence-based and promising (albeit not fully evaluated) programs, practices, and strategies. They range from large, established, federally funded initiatives to small, newly launched, faculty-piloted efforts. The majority of them, however, lack clear, quantifiable evaluations, often
because of limited financial resources and institutional capacity for assessment, data collection, analysis, and communication. The lack of designated grant funding and the overall challenge to evaluate programs as a collective contributes to the inadequacy of the data.
In spite of these limitations, the committee was able to compile available quantitative, qualitative, and anecdotal evidence to identify seven broad promising practices and strategies that hold the greatest promise for strengthening the quality of STEM education, research and workforce preparation for MSI students—if implemented with intentionality and fidelity and if sustained over time. Bold ideas and new, targeted investments guided by these practices and strategies promise to tap the still unrealized potential of MSIs and yield substantial returns for continuing the nation’s historic prominence in STEM-related fields. These practices and strategies are as follows:
(1) Dynamic, multilevel, mission-driven leadership
All institutions of higher education need strong, effective leaders. MSIs in particular are best served by forward-looking, mission-driven presidents and other senior leadership (i.e., governing boards) who have a well-articulated vision and willingness to hold themselves accountable for committing the necessary capital, educational resources, and services to the particular characteristics and needs of their student body.
(2) Institutional responsiveness to meet students where they are
Because student populations of MSIs include a high percentage of students of color and low-income students, these institutions have a particular need to design and implement policies and practices that intentionally support nontraditional student bodies, particularly those in STEM fields, who may need additional academic, financial, and social support and flexibility given the unique demands and rigor of these fields.
(3) Supportive campus environments
While true at all institutions of higher education, organizational cultures play an especially significant role in promoting student success at MSIs. A welcoming and nurturing campus climate—one that supports a fundamental sense of community and an equity-oriented culture—contributes to academic attainment and professional commitment at MSIs.
(4) Tailored academic and social supports
Intentional policies and practices, and holistic, student-centered supports, such as Summer Bridge programs and supplemental instruction, help guide students through higher education and make an important difference in persistence and success.
(5) Mentorship and sponsorship
Strong mentorship is frequently cited in the literature as key to student success at MSIs. This is an experience valued by students and alumni alike, who credit meaningful, accessible relationships with faculty and other meaningful adults as critical to their success in STEM education, and whose advocacy and support helped to advance their careers.
(6) Availability of undergraduate research experiences
Entry into graduate and professional fields increasingly demands high-quality research experience as an undergraduate—an opportunity that non-research-intensive institutions may find challenging to provide. Increasing numbers of MSIs are pioneering creative ways to extend such opportunities to more students at their institutions through course-based research experiences and external partnerships with research-intensive colleges and universities, government agencies, and private companies.
(7) Mutually beneficial public- and private-sector partnerships
Local and national partnerships between MSIs and business, industry, and state and federal governments, as well as with other MSIs and non-MSIs, have the potential to provide alternative funding mechanisms and educational and research opportunities for students, while also encouraging collaboration among academic faculty and business and industry scientists, engineers, and health professionals.
A CALL TO STAKEHOLDERS OF EDUCATION, INNOVATION, AND ADVANCEMENT
Identifying what works at MSIs is only half the battle. Through its review of the evidence base, the committee concluded that substantial resources are needed to help promote, sustain, and advance the success of MSIs and their students. Meeting this charge is not without consequence or effort on the part of these institutions, or on the part of their stakeholders.
Commitment from external stakeholders of all kinds—including federal and state governments, tribal nations (particularly in the case of Tribal Colleges and Universities), and the philanthropic and private sectors—along with a shared commitment from MSIs themselves is needed. Such investments include support that enables MSIs to recruit and retain high-quality faculty, to procure and maintain state-of-the-art laboratories and facilities, to offer extraordinary academic and social support services to students, and to compete effectively for access to the federal grants and contracts that fuel important research discoveries, innovation, and scientific advancement for our nation. Business and industry should also be motivated to invest in MSIs, largely because they are the primary beneficiaries of a highly educated, skilled workforce that increases their success and enhances the U.S. economic prosperity and national security. Stakeholders should expect
a return on investment when they provide sufficient resources to MSIs to ensure that they are equipped to meet the high standards and expectations for quality in STEM teaching, learning and research.
At the same time, a significant portion of responsibility for elevating the role of MSIs in the nation’s educational and economic infrastructure lies with MSIs themselves. For MSIs to be competitive in the educational marketplace and to contribute to the nation’s overall economic competitiveness, they will require bold leadership and a purposeful commitment to innovate, especially in an era where neither federal nor private funding is plentiful. This is especially important for non-research-intensive MSIs.
More hard choices lie ahead. MSIs may need to take a critical, holistic look at their current resources and academic offerings to prioritize those that contribute most directly to students’ workforce readiness in high-demand fields, as well as to their sociocultural development and preparation for active citizenship in their communities, on a national and global stage. This does not always mean a move toward a “STEM for all” focus, for the committee firmly believes in a balanced set of experiences for students at MSIs that give them rich exposure to the humanities, arts, business, and classical education—along with experience in science, engineering, and medicine.3 But MSIs may need to conduct internal analyses of their departmental and disciplinary strengths and capabilities, invest more heavily in campus research support systems that will enable them to attract external grant and contract dollars, conduct outreach to new partners and funders, and identify the unique value add of their institutions in ways that highlight a competitive advantage to potential funders. It may mean that the leaders of MSIs—including trustees, presidents, and provosts—become more “STEM savvy” regardless of their own disciplinary specialties, so that their investment decisions are based on a deeper understanding of the relationships between investments in STEM education and research and the capacity of their graduates to thrive in the 21st-century workforce.
The committee calls on federal and state policy makers, MSI leaders and faculty, and other key stakeholders to help implement the promising practices and effectives strategies identified in this report, but to also take bold, innovative steps to enhance and enrich the education, student development, training, and research capabilities of MSIs. As we call on governments and the business community to invest more public and private dollars in MSIs, we also ask MSIs to
3 The committee was inspired by the recent National Academies report, The Integration of the Humanities and Arts with Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Higher Education: Branches from the Same Tree (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. The Integration of the Humanities and Arts with Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in Higher Education. Branches from the Same Tree. Washington, DC: National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/24988), which urged colleges and universities to give their students experiences in a wide range of fields and disciplines—regardless of their “major”—to prepare them as citizens for life, work, and civic participation.
continue to use those dollars wisely, strategically, and with an eye toward being more accountable for their use. Finally, we ask all partners involved in this shared enterprise to approach these responsibilities with a commitment to excellence and with a heightened sense of urgency, both for the benefit of students and for the well-being of the nation.
To support the advancement of MSI students in postsecondary STEM education, and the capacity of MSIs to educate an increasingly diverse student body, the committee makes the following 10 recommendations in the broad areas of Leadership, Public and Private Partnerships, Financial Investments, Institutional Research Capacity, and Performance Measures. See Chapter 6 in the full report for a detailed description of each recommendation and a larger explanation of the committee’s intent.
MSIs are best served when presidents and other senior leaders (i.e., governing boards) foster connections with key stakeholders and demonstrate an understanding of the need for intentionality to serve as a driving factor in shaping academic and social support systems on campus. Such leaders set high expectations, meet students where they are when they enroll on campus, and deploy innovative academic and social support systems to ensure that their students achieve at high academic levels and are prepared for careers in the 21st-century economy. Advancement in leadership training and succession planning is critical for the development and implementation of sustainable programs and policies that support STEM education that bolster student success at MSIs.
Summary of Recommendation 1: Leadership of MSIs, including governing boards, presidents, deans, and provosts, should develop appropriate policies, infrastructure, and practices that together create a culture of intentionality upon which evidence-based, outcomes-driven programs and strategies to support student success are created and sustained. This is especially important for emerging and newly established MSIs.
Summary of Recommendation 2: To cultivate the next generation of forward-looking, mission-driven MSI leaders, MSIs and their stakeholders, including professional associations and university-based leadership programs, should prioritize and invest in succession planning and professional development training programs for current and future leaders of these institutions.
Public- and Private-Sector Partnerships
MSI partnerships with the public and private sectors have the potential to provide additional funding mechanisms, educational, research, and workforce opportunities for students, and collaborations among faculty and staff, all of which would benefit the involved parties and strengthen STEM teaching and learning, programmatic efforts, and student outcomes. A focus on mutual benefit (e.g., sharing responsibilities for governance of the partnership, sharing of human capital as well as financial and other resources, and equal voices for policy and decision making within the partnership) will distinguish a meaningful, sustaining partnership for all parties involved.
Summary of Recommendation 3: Leadership from within MSIs, non-MSIs, government agencies, tribal nations, state agencies, private and corporate foundations, and professional, higher education, and scientific associations should prioritize efforts to establish new or expand current mutually beneficial and sustainable partnerships that support education, research, and workforce training for the nation’s current and future STEM workforce.
New and Expanded Financial Investments
Capital and human resources matter in promoting STEM student success and achieving positive student outcomes. At a time when MSIs are uniquely positioned to serve an increasingly diverse student population and increase U.S. STEM degree production, they have markedly fewer financial resources, as compared to non-MSIs. This disparity reduces their capacity for innovation, experimentation, quantifiable evaluation, and replication of evidence-based programs to support the nation’s future workforce. As the number of MSIs continues to grow, funding must keep pace with educational and workforce demands of the nation. The recommendations below are directed to funding agencies and higher education stakeholders (Recommendations 4-7) and Congress (Recommendations 8 and 9).
Summary of Recommendation 4: Public and private funding agencies should continue to develop and expand grant competition programs that serve the nation’s MSIs. Such agencies include but are not limited to the Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, tribal nations, state agencies, private and corporate foundations, and local, regional, and national businesses.
Summary of Recommendation 5: Given the institutional resources required to effectively compete for large grants and contracts, public and private funding agencies should reconsider the practicality of current competitive
funding models for under-resourced MSIs. Such agencies include but are not limited to the Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, state agencies, private and corporate foundations, and local, regional, and national businesses.
Summary of Recommendation 6: MSI presidents and senior leadership should take aggressive, proactive steps to better position themselves to compete for public and private STEM research grants and contracts, either independently or in collaboration with local, regional, and national partners.
Summary of Recommendation 7: Public and private funding agencies should issue new and expand current grant opportunities to support evidence-based research on MSIs, their students, and the sociobehavioral and sociocultural factors and conditions that impact the efficacy of programmatic interventions at these institutions. Such agencies include but are not limited to the Department of Education, National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, tribal nations, state agencies, private and corporate foundations, and local, regional, and national businesses.
Summary of Recommendation 8: To more effectively measure MSIs’ returns on investments, and to inform current and future public-private partnership initiatives, Congress should prioritize actions to enhance the clarity, transparency, and accountability for all federal investments in STEM education and research at MSIs, including the production of an annual MSI STEM Research and Procurement report.
Summary of Recommendation 9: As it considers regular adjustments to federal higher education policies and programs—including, but not limited to, its reauthorization of the Higher Education Act—Congress should use the legislative process to incent greater investments in MSIs and the strategies outlined in this report.
MSI Performance and Accountability
Given the complex concept of student success in higher education, particularly for MSI student bodies, the committee challenges the applicability of traditional metrics to ascertain institutional and student performance. Metrics such as retention rate, graduation rate, and postgraduate income are used to compare the quality and success of academic institutions, yet they do not readily apply to MSIs because these metrics fail to consider a number of contextual factors, including students’ financial circumstances, life stage, competing commitments to work and family, academic preparation, enrollment intensity, and, importantly,
the resources available at each institution. We caution policy makers against taking a broad-brush approach when it comes to accountability measures for institutions of higher education, recognizing an uneven playing field in terms of institutional resources, and the work that MSIs must undertake when serving the nation’s most diverse communities.
Summary of Recommendation 10: Federal and state educational agencies, state legislators, and other entities that utilize indicators of institutional success, including for accountability purposes, should reassess and refine methods of measuring student outcomes to take into consideration institutional missions, faculty investment, student populations, student needs, and institutional resource constraints.
MSIs have great potential to serve as a larger part of the solution to broaden the participation of underrepresented groups in STEM and to promote the diversity of perspectives that drive innovation and discovery and advance the nation’s global impact. The recommendations of this report are offered as guideposts for Congress, federal agencies, state leaders, business and industry leaders, association and nongovernmental organization leaders, and higher education faculty and administrators across the nation. It is our hope 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.
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