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Positive Patterns for Women, Underrepresented Minorities, and Students With Disabilities in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering

Women
Minorities
Students With Disabilities
The Opposite of Attrition: Switchers Into Science and Engineering

Some colleges and universities do better at encouraging women, underrepresented minorities, and students with disabilities to enter-and stay-in undergraduate science and engineering programs than others. Helpful for all three groups are active support groups, encouraging professors, and peer and faculty mentors. (See Fuller 1991; Rosser and Kelly 1994; Fort 1995; Stern and Summers 1995.)

Women

Some institutions graduating large numbers of science and engineering women PhDs are also the origin of women's undergraduate degrees in those fields. Universities granting significant numbers of degrees to women in science and engineering fields between 1989 and 1993 at both the undergraduate and doctoral levels include the University of California, Berkeley; Cornell University (Ithaca, New York); the University of Michigan; the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Joining this group among the top 10 baccalaureate institutions of female science and engineering PhDs during this period were Pennsylvania State University; the University of California, Davis; the University of Maryland; and Rutgers University (New Jersey). (See appendix table 3-21, and for other institutions producing significant numbers of female doctorates in science and engineering, see appendix table 4-25.)

Minorities

Some colleges and universities educate a disproportionately large share of undergraduate members of racial/ethnic minorities. For example, America's historically black colleges and universities [14] continue to play an important role in the production of bachelor's degrees earned by blacks, despite the growing diversity of the Nation's campuses. Hispanics are most likely to attend colleges and universities in regions of the country where they form a large percentage of the population: California, Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico, cultures where they sometimes are not a minority. (See NSF 1994, pp. 245-246.) And a significant percentage of American Indians also study at institutions in regions of the country where they are concentrated by population: Oklahoma, California, and Texas. (See NSF 1994, pp. 249-251.)

Thirty percent of the black students who received bachelor's degrees in science and engineering in 1993 earned them at historically black colleges and universities, up slightly from 29 percent in 1985. (See appendix table 3-22.) Engineering was responsible for most of the gain. The fraction of engineering degrees to blacks from historically black colleges and universities increased from 22 percent in 1985 to 27 percent in 1993. Change varied across fields: in physical sciences, the percentage of blacks earning bachelor's degrees at historically black colleges and universities rose between these years from 44 to 47 percent, whereas in mathematics the percentage fell slightly from 50 to 48 percent.

"The 80 [historically black colleges and universities] which award bachelor's degrees in science and engineering are a small proportion of the total number of institutions in this country which award [such degrees], yet they play a prominent role in educating African-American scientists and engineers" (Trent and Hill 1994, p. 72). Between 1986 and 1988, historically black colleges and universities were the baccalaureate-level institutions of 29 percent of blacks earning doctorates (p. 77).

Students With Disabilities

Undergraduates with disabilities attend colleges and universities of all types in all parts of the country. Some enroll at disability-specific institutions or ones with programs designed particularly to assist students with a particular disability. The only dedicated, federally funded institutions serving persons with particular disabilities are two institutions for deaf and hard-of-hearing students-Gallaudet University (Washington, D.C.) and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (New York). Both receive substantial Federal funding; the U.S. Government also supports four programs for deaf and hard-of-hearing students within postsecondary institutions serving all students. [16] About half of the Nation's undergraduate institutions, however, enrolled at least one student who self-identified as deaf or hard of hearing between 1989 and 1993 (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics 1994).

At all educational levels, students with disabilities may request and can receive accommodative support from individuals, programs, offices, policies, and equipment designed to give them equal access to educational opportunity. A number of colleges and universities advertise assistance to students with learning disabilities, the fastest growing group among students with disabilities, to enable them to learn in regular campus curriculums. [17]

Supportive educational environments comprising help and encouragement from family members, friends, teachers, other persons with disabilities-mentors, advocates, and advisers-are the "most important factors encouraging students with disabilities to progress in science and engineering (or any field)." [18] Nonetheless, recent strides forward in assistive technology, which often break down centuries-old barriers to access, "have really exploded in certain fields. Perhaps the most important of all has been the computer. People with disabilities who previously might have been unable to be active in certain disciplines now can-because computer literacy is bound to be involved somewhere" (Stern, quoted in Timpane 1995, p. 1796).

Not only is technology improving assistive devices for individuals with disabilities, but also recent legislation, particularly the Technology Act of 1988 (reauthorized in 1995), has increased access to such technology. (See Appendix A Technical Notes on "Information on Persons With Disabilities" and appendix table 1-1.)

The Opposite of Attrition: Switchers Into Science and Engineering

Although many adolescents lose interest in science, mathematics, and engineering after the sophomore year in high school, data also indicate that a significant number switch into those fields during their undergraduate years. Analysis of longitudinal data examining interest and enrollment over time show that

Nearly 60 percent of those who eventually went on to major in [science, mathematics, and engineering] had no plans to do so when they were high school sophomores. Indeed, nearly as many students decided to major in [science, mathematics, and engineering] after their sophomore year of college as stayed with a decision to major in [these fields] as high school sophomores. This finding suggests that educators concerned about the development of scientists, mathematicians, and engineers for the future need to look to other fields and help smooth the transition of students from one major to another (NSF 1993, p. 13).

More men immigrate into science fields than do women, according to Strenta et al. (1994). Ninety-five women and 165 men switched into science between 1988 and 1992 at the four highly selective institutions they studied (p. 525). The recruits are often strong students: they "averaged 3.24 in their science courses during the first two years, while students who were initially interested in but left science had a corresponding average of 2.63" (p. 526).


[14] Of the more than 150 postsecondary institutions founded during the years of legal segregation, 106 were open in 1994. Located largely in southern and border states, most offer baccalaureates-19 provide associate degrees only and a handful, graduate awards (Trent and Hill 1994).
[16] Gallaudet enrolls students at all undergraduate and graduate levels, whereas the students at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf can earn certificates, diplomas, or associate degrees, often then transferring to its enfolding university, the Rochester Institute of Technology, or elsewhere for baccalaureate and/or graduate study. In addition, a number of institutions provide special programs for deaf and hard-of-hearing students: the California State University at Northridge has federally funded programs at all degree levels; the Postsecondary Education Consortium (Tennessee) offers undergraduate degrees and below; the Seattle Community College (Washington) and the St. Paul Technical College (Minnesota) give associate degrees.
[17] College directories list many institutions with programs to enable such students to participate in regular coursework. (See, for example, Mangrum and Strichart 1994, and Kravets and Wax 1995.)
[18] Virginia W. Stern, Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Project on Science, Technology, and Disability (Washington, D.C.), personal communication, 25 October 1995.


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