Chapter 3:

The Undergraduate Experience in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering


The patterns described in this chapter provide evidence that disparity yet exists among racial/ethnic, gender, and disability categories. Although most bachelorís degrees in engineering, physical sciences, computer science, and agricultural sciences are earned by white males, trends suggest movement toward a greater representation of minorities within these fields. In some fields, women now earn half or more than half of all degrees awarded.

In addition to highlighting historical trends in enrollment and outcomes at the undergraduate level, several interesting findings emerged from the indices of representation. The proportion of white males and females enrolled as undergraduates has declined since 1980, whereas racial/ethnic minorities have improved their representation in all undergraduate fields, including science, mathematics, and engineering. The rate of improvement among black males has been slower than that of all other minority groups. During the decade of the 1980s, the total number of bachelorís degrees awarded to all underrepresented minorities increased, including degrees in science and engineering.

Data on enrollment and outcomes for students with disabilities is insufficient for detailed analysis. One recent study (Seymour and Hunter, 1998) examines factors that may discourage students with disabilities from completing undergraduate degrees in science and engineering.

Also noteworthy was the role that Historically Black Colleges and Universities and colleges and universities in Puerto Rico play in educating black women and Hispanic students who go on to earn graduate degrees in the sciences and engineering.

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