Once the unchallenged leader in the fast-paced, complex global economy, the United States now faces steadily increasing competition, and its position as the global leader in innovation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is at risk. The nation’s diminished role in producing new technologies is seen, for example, in the decreased number of U.S. patent grants issued for technologies developed within the United States compared to those of international origin (USPTO 2018). The nation’s decreased standing became apparent in the early 2000s, when China surpassed the United States as the world’s top high-technology exporter; by 2010, Germany followed, and today, Singapore and South Korea are not far behind (World Bank 2018). To support faster economic growth and advance the nation’s global standing, the U.S. economy will need to rely increasingly on higher levels of productivity, which will come, in part, from increased investments in research and technological advances (Bloom et al. 2017). These gains will also require a strategic effort to expand the labor force—increasing the number of well-educated and highly skilled STEM-capable professionals to maintain the pace of producing meaningful technological breakthroughs.
The enhancement of the U.S. STEM workforce entails more than simply increasing the number and expertise of its future professionals. New discoveries in STEM are fast becoming characterized by interdisciplinary collaboration—by “team science” that capitalizes on diverse perspectives, knowledge, and skills (NRC 2015). To address national priorities related to progress and innovation, and to facilitate advances in the grand domestic and international challenges in STEM, the diversity of the U.S. workforce matters (European Commision 2003; NAS, NAE, and IOM 2011; page 2017).
Although America’s STEM workforce has grown more diverse over time, its numbers are still far below the level of diversity represented in the general population (Pew Reserch Center 2018). The impact of this underrepresentation is critical to understand, given the imminent transition toward a non-White majority in the United States. In 2016, nearly 50 percent of the nation’s population 0-17 years of age was non-White; based on current projections, by year 2060, two-thirds of the nation’s youth will be of color (U.S. Census Bureau 2015, 2018). A clear takeaway from these population estimates is that 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. This takeaway leads to an important question: What specific and strategic actions can the nation take to ensure high-quality STEM education and impactful workforce preparation experiences for the growing population of students of color, in the hope to secure a larger, well-trained, STEM-capable workforce? One solution is to identify the most effective initiatives currently used to support the postsecondary STEM education and workforce preparation for students of color.
Fortunately, the nation has a major asset in achieving this goal: the more than 700 Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) that enroll nearly 30 percent of all undergraduates in the U.S. higher education system, the vast majority of whom are students of color (Espinosa et al. 2017; Gasman and Conrad 2013). As detailed later in this report, MSIs vary substantially in their origins, missions, student demographics, and levels of institutional selectivity, but, in general, these institutions provide a gateway to higher education, particularly for students of color and those with low-income backgrounds. Although many are long established, their accomplishments and contributions to the educational success and workforce readiness for STEM students are often overlooked. This report examines the role of MSIs in the nation’s higher education system, identifies their most promising programs and effective strategies to increase the quantity and quality of STEM graduates, and reviews their contributions to advance America’s capacity for STEM research, innovation, and advancements.
In response to an urgent need to strengthen STEM education and research opportunities for students from underrepresented minority groups, over the past decade, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (the National Academies) have undertaken a series of efforts to inspire and encourage improvements in the academic experiences of underrepresented students (Box 1-1). This study extends the National Academies’ commitment to these issues by focusing on the nation’s MSIs and examining their position to contribute to national priorities related to economic growth, scientific discovery, national security, infrastructure, public health, and social well-being.
Sponsors of this study include the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Helmsley Charitable Trust, Wallace Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and ECMC Foundation. The study’s full Statement of Task is presented in Box 1-2.
In response to the Statement of Task, the study committee examined research evidence to identify the most promising programs and effective strategies to bolster outcomes of success for MSI students (e.g., enrollment, persistence, retention, degree attainment, and employment)—with a particular focus on students in STEM fields. The committee also examined the role of federal and state policies in supporting these initiatives.
Unlike many previous reports on MSIs, which tend to highlight the limitations of these institutions, this report provides a fuller picture of MSIs, offering important context for the missions of these institutions and examples of their return on investment for students, as well as for federal, state, and local economies. By focusing this report on what works, rather than on what’s wrong, the committee calls attention to (1) the achievements of MSIs and the opportunities
for other institutions (MSIs and non-MSIs) to replicate and/or adapt specific initiatives, and (2) the multifaceted returns that could accrue from investing both financial and human capital in MSIs and the educational experiences that they provide to millions of students.
Based on an assortment of evidence, the committee offers a series of key findings and recommendations to study stakeholders—administrators and faculty at MSIs and non-MSIs, Congress, federal agencies, state and local legislatures, tribal nations, governors, higher education researchers, the business community, and professional and nonprofit organizations. If implemented, these recommen-
dations could support the scale-up and/or expansion of effective practices for students, and create clearer, more efficient pathways and policies for two- and four-year MSIs to thrive in the nation’s postsecondary education system.
In spring 2017, the National Academies appointed an 18-member committee of experts to address the objectives outlined in the Statement of Task. The resulting Committee on Closing the Equity Gap: Securing Our STEM Education and Workforce Readiness Infrastructure in the Nation’s Minority Serving Institutions includes scientists and engineers, current and former MSI and non-MSI administrators and faculty, business and industry leaders, current and former policy makers, and economists. In addition, most committee members have direct expertise in STEM-related disciplines. (See Appendix A for the biographical sketches of committee members.)
In conducting its work, the committee convened eight times from April 2017 through August 2018, including four in-person and four virtual meetings. In conjunction with two of the in-person meetings, the committee held public information-gathering sessions to gather background information, data, and general input from the study sponsors; the White House; content experts; representatives from MSI; relevant professional organizations; business, industry, and government agencies; and other stakeholders. In addition to public discussions, the committee’s own expertise and the conclusions from other relevant National Academies studies (see Box 1-1) were also used to inform the committee’s deliberations.
To assist in efforts to collect and evaluate published, evidence-based findings, the committee commissioned a literature review from the Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania (the Penn Center), a private research organization that serves as a repository for research and data, on and within MSIs.1 The committee soon discovered substantial limitations to the data on the effective strategies to support STEM students at MSIs, in terms of the limited number of publications and the low level of rigor used to produce conclusions of “student success.” As such, the committee commissioned the Penn Center to conduct a broader review that encompassed three areas of focus: (1) STEM education for students of color across higher education (MSIs and non-MSIs), (2) student success at MSIs (STEM and non-STEM), and (3) student success in STEM at MSIs. Using committee-directed criteria and casting a wide net of search terms, the Penn Center identified and analyzed more than 170 studies2 for common themes or lessons learned. Importantly, given the search strategy,
2 The commissioned review included peer-reviewed articles, case studies, dissertations, and research reports from academic researchers, government agencies, nonprofit research centers, and professional organizations.
much of the evidence for success discussed throughout this report, particularly in Chapter 5, can be applied to more widespread demographics (i.e., underrepresented minority students in STEM and general education in both MSI and non-MSI settings) than originally anticipated. This implies that targeted support for one population does not have to come at the expense of another. (Chapter 5 and Appendix E further describe the literature search and its limitations.)
Although the committee considered diverse forms of research evidence as appropriate and usable for analyses, wherever possible—particularly in Chapters 3 and 4—the committee members made an intentional effort to prioritize peer-reviewed publications and research articles with the greatest level of scientific rigor and internal validity. In addition, because the set of issues on which this study focuses is underresearched, the committee submitted a number of specific data requests to higher education research organizations. These organizations included the American Council on Education, the American Institutes for Research, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, the NORC at the University of Chicago, and the National Science Foundation.
Finally, serving as a significant component of the committee’s information-gathering efforts, from September through November 2017, a subset of committee members conducted informational site visits at nine MSIs known to have implemented effective or promising programs, policies, practices, and/or strategies to help propel more students toward degree attainment in STEM fields and toward strong preparation for success in STEM careers. Participating MSIs were selected from a list of nominated institutions culled from discussions with key stakeholders of the study’s report. Nominations also were accepted from the Penn Center and MSI advocacy and association groups (e.g., the United Negro College Fund, the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, and the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund). In the selection of sites, the committee made a conscious effort to include a diversity of perspectives represented across the different classifications of MSIs, size and type of institution, setting (rural, urban, etc.), and region. The MSIs selected were Morgan State University (Maryland), West Los Angeles College (California), San Diego State University (California), Dillard University (Louisiana), Xavier University (Louisiana), University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (Texas), North Carolina A&T State University (North Carolina), Mission College (California), and Salish Kootenai College (Montana). (See Appendix C for site visit agendas.)
As a result of the open and candid discussions held during these site visits, the committee was able to collect unique, mostly unpublished, qualitative and quantitative data. These data provided illustrative examples of long-standing models and approaches to support students of color in STEM, as well as examples of promising and innovative efforts to address the changing STEM education and research landscapes and future workforce needs in these disciplines. These
data helped to inform several of the research conclusions and recommendations within this report.
The committee first determined how to define and limit the scope of its work, as articulated in the Statement of Task. Decisions on key words and concepts are presented in the following chapters, but it is important to note that the committee recognizes that alternative definitions of the terms can be found in the research literature (Box 1-3). In addition, illustrative examples of effective strategies to support students of color in STEM are presented throughout the report; however, the committee recognizes that these examples are inadequate to cover the range of possible types of promising or innovative programs or strategies implemented in MSIs across the nation.
Throughout the report, the committee focused its research efforts on four of the seven types of MSIs listed in Box 1-3: Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs), and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs). It did so because these four types of MSIs have a more robust evidence base and/or overall serve a larger proportion of students of color as compared to the other three types: Alaska Native-Serving and Hawaiian-Serving (ANNHIs), Predominately Black Institutions (PBIs), and Native American-Serving Nontribal Institutions (NASNTIs). It is important that future efforts invest in research that can lead to a more thorough examination of all MSI types.
The remainder of this report provides a more thorough discussion on MSIs, the students they serve, and their role in advancing the STEM workforce and national, regional, and local economies. The report provides both quantitative and qualitative evidence and, where relevant, distinguishes where the evidence is used to support findings for students of color in STEM at MSIs, students of color at MSIs in all fields, and students of color at higher education institutions, more broadly.
Chapter 2 provides an overview of the nation’s STEM workforce, its needs, and the role that cultural diversity plays in promoting its success.
Chapter 3 provides an overview of federally recognized types of MSIs; presents a short review of the MSI community, including the diversity among its students, faculty, and presidents; describes challenges with current assessment metrics; and considers what it means to “serve” students of color.
Chapter 4 describes the current federal, state, and local funding landscape for MSIs and presents select examples of the various kinds of returns on invest-
ment for MSI students, the STEM workforce, and MSIs’ local and regional communities.
Chapter 5 describes seven evidence-based strategies that have demonstrated or show unique promise in cultivating success for students of color. It also presents illustrative examples of programs, policies, and practices that have successfully implemented these strategies.
Chapter 6 revisits the key messages conveyed in Chapters 2 through 5 and offers targeted recommendations to multisector stakeholders who hold the power to create, adapt, and scale up specific policies and practices that can advance the STEM education and workforce outcomes for tens of millions of Americans—the nation’s current and future workforce. With prompt and intentional support, MSIs can bolster the nation’s international impact in the STEM fields.
Bloom, Nicholas, Charles I. Jones, John Van Reenen, and Michael Webb. 2017. Are Ideas Getting Harder to Find?: National Bureau of Economic Research. Available at: https://www.nber.org/papers/w23782. Accessed October 2018.
Espinosa, Lorelle L., Jonathan M. Turk, Morgan Taylor. 2017. Pulling Back the Curtain: Enrollment and Outcomes at Minority Serving Institutions. Washington, DC: American Council on Education.
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Gasman, Marybeth and Clifton F. Conrad. 2013. Minority Serving Institutions: Educating All Students. Philadelphia, PA: Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions, Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania.
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