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Minorities [2]

Demographic Shifts
Opportunities to Learn and Decisions to Study Science, Mathematics, and Engineering
Achievement and Accomplishments

Demographic ShiftsUp arrow

Population Composition

The diversity of the U.S. population is increasing. Different fertility rates, immigration patterns, and age distributions (and thus death rates) of population subgroups suggest that the 21st century population profile will contrast sharply with that of the 20th. [3] Around the year 2030 the total elementary school-aged cohort of the United States could be about equally divided between whites and all other racial/ethnic groups combined. Over the following 20 years, blacks, Asians, Hispanics of all races, and American Indians would together outnumber the total white population of elementary school children.

Opportunities to Learn and Decisions to Study Science, Mathematics, and EngineeringUp arrow

Elementary/Secondary Education

Racial/ethnic group membership is less closely related to student achievement than factors related to family resources/support, school characteristics, and student opportunity to learn. Examination of several variables at the secondary school level identified factors correlated with student achievement. For eighth grade student populations, factors making the greatest difference were:
parents' expectations about student educational attainment;
learning materials made available by parents;
the socioeconomic status of students in the school;
whether students place a priority on learning;
teacher ability to motivate students;
students' educational aspirations; and
courses students take in school.

Career Expectations

Educational expectations differ across racial/ethnic groups: In 1990, 31 percent of white and 30 percent of Asian 10th graders expected to graduate from college - a requirement for almost any science or mathematics career. Only 26 percent of black, 23 percent of Hispanic, and 19 percent of American Indian students expected to complete a college education. Almost 11 percent of Asian eighth grade students in 1988 said they expected to be a science or engineering professional when they were 30 years old. In comparison, 7 percent of whites and 5 percent of Hispanic and black students said they thought they would have a career in science or engineering.


Advanced science and mathematics courses are essential to preparation for collegiate science and mathematics. Among 12th grade students in 1992, there were substantial differences in the proportions of students who had taken 8 or more semesters of mathematics classes in high school: 44 percent of whites; 32 percent of blacks; 30 percent of Hispanics; 28 percent of American Indians; and 64 percent of Asians.
Differences in course-taking also characterized students planning to attend college. Among those students who took the SAT, in 1993, more than 88 percent of Asians and 84 percent of whites took chemistry in high school; roughly three-quarters of each of the underrepresented groups took chemistry. The biggest difference was in physics: 64 percent of Asians took physics, compared with 45 percent of whites, 43 percent of Latin Americans, and less than 40 percent of all other groups.


Tracking of students in advanced science and mathematics classes may make participation in these fields more difficult. A study of courses taken and placements for students with high expectations for themselves regarding college attendance and career goals revealed that half of the underrepresented minorities, compared with 20 percent of whites and Asians, were not enrolled in courses that would permit them to complete the expected sequence of courses needed to enter college.

Two-Year Institutions

Two-year institutions have been particularly important in providing access to higher education for traditionally underrepresented groups of students. Two-year colleges enroll almost half of the students entering higher education as first-year students; they enroll slightly more than half (52 percent) of students from underrepresented minority groups entering college.
Although the number of students enrolled full-time at 2-year institutions rose by 22 percent from 1980 to 1991, the number of students from underrepresented minority groups enrolled as full-time students increased 28 percent. The differences for part-time students were more dramatic: part-time enrollment overall rose 30 percent between 1980 and 1991, while part-time enrollment of underrepresented minorities rose 59 percent.

Four-Year Institutions

Enrollment of minorities in 4-year institutions has increased. For underrepresented minorities, the increase in full-time enrollment between 1981 and 1991 was 30 percent. Among first-year students, enrollment of whites decreased; enrollment of blacks and American Indians fluctuated, ending slightly higher in 1991 than in 1980; and enrollment of Asians and Hispanics increased.

Higher Education Role Models

Low proportions of faculty teaching undergraduates are from underrepresented minorities in six science and engineering fields included in a study of undergraduate education: civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering; and sociology, geology, and physics. Proportions varied from a high of 8 percent for black faculty in sociology, to a low of less than one-half of 1 percent in any of the six fields for American Indians.

Graduate Education

Sixteen percent of U.S. citizens enrolled in graduate science and engineering programs in 1992 were minorities. Blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians continued to be seriously underrepresented, comprising 9 percent of the total enrollment in graduate science and engineering programs.

Achievement and AccomplishmentsUp arrow

Elementary/Secondary Education

Asian students' levels of achievement in mathematics and science are higher than those of students from any other racial/ethnic group, including whites. In mathematics, Asian students had higher average proficiency levels than whites and other minorities at grades 4, 8, and 12. On a scale rating proficiency levels between a basic level of 200 and the most advanced level of 350, at the 12th grade level Asians averaged 315; whites, 305; Hispanics, 283; American Indians 281; and blacks, 275. In science, proficiency levels at grade 12 were distributed in similar fashion: Asians averaged 308; whites, 303; American Indians, 286; Hispanics, 273; and blacks, 256.

Transition to Higher Education

On the mathematics component of the SAT, the scores of every racial/ethnic group improved over the decade from 1983 to 1993. The relative standing of the racial/ethnic groups did not change. In 1993, Asians continued to have the highest average mathematics SAT scores, followed by whites and American Indians, Latin Americans, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and blacks. During the decade, American Indians achieved the highest increase in mathematics scores of any racial/ethnic group, rising 22 points. Asians' scores increased by 21 points and blacks' increased by 19 points.

Attrition From Higher Education

Attrition from higher education appears to be greater for minority students. Comparison of enrollment profiles for cohorts enrolled in lower division and upper division [4] show differential declines in the size of cohorts enrolled from different racial/ethnic groups. Comparing across a 2-year period, the losses in numbers of students enrolled were approximately 40 percent of blacks, 25 percent of Hispanics, and 20 percent of American Indians, compared with 15 percent of whites and 3 percent of Asians.

Bachelor's Degrees

Minorities earned 17 percent of bachelor's degrees in science and engineering in 1991. Underrepresented minorities - blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians - earned the same proportion of science and engineering degrees that they earned of non-science and engineering degrees, 11 percent, in 1991. These proportions were virtually unchanged from 10 years earlier.
Between 1981 and 1991, the number of bachelor's degrees earned by underrepresented minorities in non-science and engineering fields increased 34 percent, compared with an increase in science and engineering of 8 percent.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU's) continue to play an important role in the undergraduate education of blacks, despite the growing diversity of the Nation's campuses. Twenty-eight percent of the black students receiving bachelor's degrees in science and engineering in 1991 received their degrees from an HBCU. Half of the 26 institutions that awarded the largest number of science bachelor's degrees to black men were HBCU's; 15 of the top 25 institutions awarding science bachelor's degrees to black women were HBCU's. In engineering, HBCU's comprised 12 of the top 26 institutions for black men and 8 of the top 25 institutions for black women.

Master's Degrees

Minorities earned 12 percent of master's degrees in science and engineering in 1991, compared with 11 percent in 1981. The increase was primarily due to substantial increases in the number of awards to Asians, with only slight increases in awards to underrepresented minorities.


Minorities who were U.S. citizens earned 10 percent of the total doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens in 1992, up from 9 percent of the total in 1982. Within racial/ethnic groups, there were gender differences. Increases occurred in numbers of awards to both men and women except for whites and American Indians; doctorates in science and engineering to men decreased and awards to women increased for these groups. For all of the underrepresented minorities, the numbers of science and engineering doctorate recipients in 1992 were very small: 300 blacks, 414 Hispanics, and 69 American Indians.

Employment Levels and Trends

Racial/ethnic minorities constituted 22 percent of the total civilian labor force in 1990; they were 14 percent of the science and engineering labor force in 1990. Underrepresented minorities were 19 percent of the total labor force and 8 percent of the science and engineering labor force. Asians were 3 percent of the labor force and 6 percent of the science and engineering labor force.
Asians are well represented in the science and engineering labor force and there is little difference in terms of unemployment, underemployment, median salary, academic rank, and tenure career success between Asian and white doctoral scientists and engineers with similar degree fields and years of professional work experience.
Hispanics remain underrepresented in the science and engineering labor force, with limited progress during the last decade. While Hispanic and white doctoral scientists and engineers were similar on unemployment and underemployment, Hispanics were not comparable to whites in terms of salary, academic rank, and tenure.
Blacks continue to be underrepresented in the science and engineering labor force, although they demonstrated significant progress during the decade from 1980 to 1990. However, black doctoral scientists and engineers do not share equally with whites in terms of salary, academic rank, and tenure.
Limited statistics available on American Indians in the labor force suggest that they are underrepresented in science and engineering and that American Indian doctoral scientists and engineers have salaries somewhat below those of whites.

2. Topics covered in this report are presented for five racial/ethnic groups: white, black, Hispanic, Asian, and American Indian. The term "minority" includes all groups other than white; "underrepresented minorities" includes three groups whose representation in science and engineering is less than their representation in the population: blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians. Up arrow

3. Using "middle series" population projections from the Bureau of the Census. See Day, Jennifer Cheeseman. 1993. Population Projections of the United States, by Age, Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin: 1993 to 2050. Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, P25-1104. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce. Up arrow

4. Placement in a division depends on numbers of credits earned toward the baccalaureate; lower-division students generally have fewer than half the number needed to graduate; upper-division students, one-half or more. Up arrow

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