SIDEBAR: Minorities in Science at Four Highly Selective Institutions

Another study of science and engineering majors [15] at the four highly selective institutions considered in the box on page xx, this time focusing on non-Asian minorities-except for American Indians-finds that, unlike women, minorities are "at least as interested in pursuing science as whites" (Elliott et al. 1995, p. 1). The researchers conclude that "the chief problems for non-Asian minority students aspiring to science majors would appear to be not institutional racism, but rather a relative lack of preparation and developed ability" (p. 40).

"Despite relative deficits in scores on measures of preparation and developed ability, blacks entered college with strong interest in majoring in science," they write (p. ii). Blacks had the highest attrition (66 percent), however; whites and Hispanics were near the average of 40 percent; Asians were lowest (30 percent). The researchers also found that ethnicity "did not add significantly to ability and achievement variables in predicting attrition," and they uncovered "almost no evidence of any sense of racial or ethnic discrimination" (p. ii).

Responses of students originally intending a science and engineering major suggest that ethnicity did make a difference, however, in a number of areas, including background, budgeting of time, reasons for attrition, and attitudes toward the academic environments of their majors. "If equal developed ability predicts equal persistence, unequal developed ability predicts differential persistence," and whites and Asians typically have better science and mathematics preparation than underrepresented minorities (p. 4). "Hispanics appear to have persisted more, and blacks less, than [high school test scores and science grades] might have indicated" (p. 13). Still, "preadmission variables accounted for a significant fraction of the variance of persistence decisions, and ethnicity did not" (p. 13).

"The gap in developed ability between the white-Asian majority and non-Asian minorities, especially blacks, especially in science, results from institutional policies of preferential admissions from pools differing in measures of…achievement at the point of entry into higher education" (p. 35). Underrepresented minority students may decide that the cost, however serious, is worth the education they receive. But selective majority white institutions could usefully assist underprepared minority students in a number of ways, including

[15] The sample was 3,534 whites, 582 Asians, 355 blacks, and 216 Hispanics enrolled in 1988. Researchers excluded American Indians from the analysis because of the small numbers involved-of the 34 matriculating, only 9 expressed an initial interest in science.

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