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NSF establishes new center to study successful undergraduate STEM education practices at historically Black colleges and universities

male scientist working in a lab

Credit: Maksim Shmeljov/

August 19, 2020

Historically Black Colleges and Universities have a high success rate of graduating their students — 8.5% of Black undergraduate students attend HBCUs, yet almost 18% of the Black STEM bachelor's degrees are awarded from HBCUs. Of the top eight institutions that graduate Black undergraduate students who ultimately go on to earn doctorates, seven are HBCUs — one-third of all Black students who have earned doctorates graduated with bachelor's degrees from HBCUs.

To study and model the successful practices of HBCUs, the U.S. National Science Foundation is establishing the HBCU STEM Undergraduate Success Research Center (STEM-US), with the aim of applying these practices broadly in higher education. Data collected will help explain how the educational advocacy and social support provided by HBCUs consistently produce a greater sense of well-being, higher percentages of STEM graduates and, ultimately, STEM doctorates.

NSF is awarding $9 million to establish the center, led by researchers from Morehouse College, Spelman College and Virginia State University. Researchers will study the successful broadening participation practices of 50 HBCUs and develop evidence-based interventions with the aim of transforming mainstream education. The researchers will employ a convergent approach to education and share data to improve student outcomes across the HBCU network and other institutions.

The knowledge base produced through the center will help ensure that HBCUs play a leading role in local and national education reform. At its core, STEM-US aims to promote an asset-based image of HBCUs relative to their disproportionate success in educating STEM students. The center will strengthen national STEM capabilities through research training and education of thousands of college STEM majors, hundreds of faculty members, the nation at large, and the legacy of HBCUs in STEM education.

"Investing in the institutional capacity of HBCUs and developing diverse STEM talent is part of NSF's longstanding commitment to broaden participation of groups traditionally underrepresented in STEM," said NSF program officer, Claudia Rankins, who manages the HBCU program. "The knowledge generated by this center will detail what practices make HBCUs successful in educating Black students in STEM, and the center will place HBCUs at the forefront of STEM education reform."

STEM-US brings together diverse researchers spanning various STEM fields to form a new framework to examine broadening participation at HBCUs. STEM-US will conduct several initial research projects, including a case study of 25 HBCUs, studies on intersectionality and gender equity, studies on course-based undergraduate research experiences and studies of the scientific literacy necessary for success in STEM.

More information about STEM-US can be found on NSF's website.

Media Contacts
Media Affairs, NSF, (703) 292-7090,