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Issues

This statistical report appears at a time when participation, access, and quality have become critically important issues.
Since this series of biennial reports began in 1982, the focus of discussions of underrepresentation of particular population subgroups has shifted. In 1982, efforts to improve representation in science and engineering were intended to promote access and equity. Specific, targeted efforts to improve the numbers and percentages of these groups who study and work in technical fields made a difference and continue to do so. There are still areas of concern, however, and underrepresentation continues to be a problem in science and engineering. This report documents areas where progress has been made and where problems remain.
Equity has not been the only concern. In the last decade, the Nation's educational system has received scrutiny and criticism because the quality of education it provides for all groups has been too low. A wide variety of efforts are now under way to improve quality and to ensure that progress towards articulated goals can be measured. Improving quality has focused attention not only on the content of education and training and the means by which they are delivered, but on the setting as well: the infrastructure supporting the research that is both responsible for our technological advances and ensures that our educational system meets world standards.
Equity and quality are now also viewed within the compelling context of national needs. The ability of the Nation's workforce to compete effectively in a global economy that is changing rapidly due to technology and shifting labor markets has been of growing concern. To establish and maintain such capability, the population must be educated in at least the basic concepts of science, mathematics, and engineering and be able to make reasonable judgments about the care and use of scarce resources. An adequately trained workforce must be equipped with technical skills and a cadre of researchers must be able to pursue research and development (R&D) in a wide range of fields. Full participation in effective science and engineering education is essential to the realization of these objectives for the population as a whole and to the preparation of a portion of that population for careers in science and engineering disciplines.
The prudent use of resources to accomplish these aims requires that educational opportunities of high quality be available to all. Clearly, the Nation cannot completely achieve equity, improve quality, or sustain international competitiveness if most of our human resources-women, blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and persons with disabilities-continue to be underrepresented in science and engineering.
In the near term, as intense scrutiny is directed at the resources allotted to science and engineering, some national goals may be in competition. How best can improved education in science and technology fields be provided to larger numbers of underrepresented groups? Which levels of instruction most require renewed attention and additional resources? Should there be efforts to increase the numbers of underrepresented groups in the science and engineering workforce at times of rising unemployment or underemployment for scientists and engineers in some disciplines?
These difficult questions of distribution of resources and more equal participation in science and engineering provide the context for this report. The report presents statistical evidence intended to help inform debate and discussion.

Population Groups


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