A program to increase the number of minority scientists has proved highly successful, according to a new report from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The program, called the Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, facilitates the recruitment, retention, and advancement of traditionally underrepresented racial groups in the higher echelons of academic study. Active since 1998, the program is financed by the National Science Foundation and has 66 participating institutions.
From 2001 to 2008, the number of doctoral degrees awarded to African Americans, Alaskan Natives, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Pacific Islanders at those institutions grew by 34 percent in scientific and technical fields, the report says. Within the subset of natural sciences and engineering, the increase was closer to 50 percent.
The report strikes a more optimistic tone on minority performance in doctoral programs than some previous studies, including one from the Council of Graduate Schools that showed that, from 1993 to 2004, black and Hispanic students often struggled to complete their doctoral programs as quickly as their white and Asian-American peers. Inadequate academic preparation had been cited as a possible cause for the discrepancy.
But the Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate program may be a game changer. According to a news release, James H. Wyche, director of the NSF’s Division of Human Resource Development, said that in 2005-6 the 66 member institutions accounted for 56 percent of all science, technology, engineering, and mathematics doctorates awarded to underrepresented minority groups in the country. —Steve Kolowich