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Context

Trends in Education

An important aspect of the context for reviewing underrepresentation in science and engineering is the educational system. Following a rapid rise in enrollments in the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, participation in formal education has continued to grow since 1950, not only in absolute numbers but also in the proportion of the population enrolled. The enrollment rate of 5- to 17-year-olds went from 85 percent in 1960 to 89 percent in 1990. The rise in the percentage of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in higher education was dramatic, from 24 to 54 percent (U.S. Department of Education/NCES 1993, pp. 34, 77).
Not all groups have shared equally in this expansion. The proportions of high school graduates in the adult populations of each racial/ethnic group show the results of past opportunities and experiences. For each group except Asians, women had completion rates very slightly higher than men; the difference by gender was greatest among Asians, where men led women by 5 percentage points, 76 percent compared with 71 percent. Much greater discrepancies occur in the proportions across groups that have completed a bachelor's degree or higher. (See figure 1-5.)

Figure 1-5

Enrollment in higher education increased substantially during the 20th century, particularly during the 1920's, the 1940's, and the 1960's. During the 1960's, in addition to the "baby boom" generation entering college, there were efforts to increase access to higher education. Data on the racial/ethnic composition of students in higher education have been available since the late 1970's: Between 1978 and 1991, total enrollment increased from 9.8 million to 12.6 million and the proportion of the student population that was white dropped from 79 percent to 76 percent of the total. The increase in shares occurred almost entirely among Asian and Hispanic students. Documentation of these shifts-and the resulting implications for degree awards and participation in the workplace-are the focus of later chapters.

Attitudes Toward Science and Scientists


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