Our Nation's Challenge STEM Achievement Gaps Persist
Young women and minority youth are now the demographic majority in the United States, but they make up only a fraction of science and engineering students. Today, 75% of the nation's scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and technologists are still male and 80% are still white, according to Building Engineering and Science Talent (BEST).
There is evidence that girls limit their consideration of technical careers by the end of middle school, often favoring caring and nurturing careers. As a result, many girls decide that science and technology have little to do with their aspirations and take fewer and less rigorous science courses. In 1999 African Americans represented only 3.5% of the science/engineering workforce. Latino Americans, the largest and fastest growing minority, represented 25% of the school population but were underrepresented in science and engineering, as were Native Americans, and students with disabilities.
While the gaps in science have closed between white students and their African American and Latino peers at grade four, the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reveals that significant gaps persist between white students and their African American and Latino peers at grade 12 and that the white - African American student score gap actually widened between 2000 and 2005. In the 2009 Math NAEP, there was no significant change at grades 4 or 8 in either the white-African American or white - Latino score gaps since 2007.
Projected demographic shifts could magnify the problem. As the U.S. college population stabilizes at about 30 million students from 2010 to 2025, groups currently underrepresented in STEM fields will attend college in growing numbers, increasing the number who are unprepared to earn STEM degrees. By 2010 the number of people in the United States aged 18 - 24 will increase by 10 million, and minorities will account for 60% of this increase. By 2050, Latinos will make up 24% of the workforce. In 2002, Latinos represented only 6.9% of all engineering college majors; non-Latino whites represented 77.8%. Without increasing the numbers of minorities in engineering and technology, as the percentage of white males in the workforce decreases, the number of engineers will also decrease.
The challenge is: How to attract women, African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and people with disabilities to STEM fields? These underrepresented groups make up almost two-thirds of the U.S. workforce but only 25% of the science and engineering workforce. They must be recruited into engineering and technology fields if the country is to compete effectively in the global economy.
While most people spend 95% of their time interacting with the technologies of the human-made world, few know these products are made through engineering, the missing link that connects science and math with innovation.