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Frontiers
Minority Students Make Gains in Science and Engineering

July 1997

The percentages of black, Hispanic and American Indian students taking basic and advanced mathematics courses increased dramatically in the last decade. Among black high school graduates in 1982, only 30% had taken geometry and 1% had taken calculus, whereas, in 1992, 60% had taken geometry and 7% calculus. The percentage of minorities taking chemistry and physics also doubled during the same time period.

This good news comes from a biennial NSF tracking study that was Congressionally mandated in 1980 and started in 1982. Women, Minorities and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering: 1996, shepherded by NSF's Committee on Equal Opportunities and Science and Engineering (CEOSE) and compiled by the Division of Science Resource Studies, examines statistics and trends in elementary, secondary and higher education, as well as in academia and scientific and engineering professions.

In many cases, these traditionally underrepresented groups remain underrepresented in the work force when compared with the number of white males. Most of the information in the study was "not unanticipated," says Joan Burrelli, one of the study's authors; however, "there have been noteworthy strides in many areas," she adds.

The report addressed the needs of specific populations, and found that the outlook for including scientists and engineers with disabilities was mixed. "Once they are in the work force, scientists and engineers with disabilities seem to have comparable work-force participation to scientists and engineers without disabilities," Burrelli says. "Unfortunately, disabled persons who are scientists and engineers have a more difficult time getting into the work force in the first place, and they are more likely to be unemployed or working part-time."

For women, "participation is increasing in science and engineering course work and professions, although women's participation in science and engineering tends to be highly skewed towards fields such as psychology and sociology, and away from areas like engineering and physics," says Burrelli.

One of the study's benefits is its ability to shape policy to improve both educational and professional opportunities in science and engineering for these underrepresented groups, according to Burrelli. Results have been widely used by NSF program officers and were used by CEOSE in its 1997 report to Congress.

SRS reports are available via NSF's Web site: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/ or by calling (703) 306-1773.


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