We all know that diversity matters: McKinsey’s research suggests that highly ethnically diverse teams outperform the industry average by as much as 35 percent, while highly gender diverse teams perform 15 percent better. (The reverse also holds: companies with the least diversity underperform industry averages.)
Yet, despite a sustained and focused effort to increase student participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses, our nation’s STEM workforce is no more diverse today than it was 15 years ago.
A few sobering statistics:
70 percent of college students come from underrepresented backgrounds or are women, yet fewer than 45 percent of STEM degrees are held by members of these groups.*
Native youth post the worst achievement scores and the lowest graduation rates of any student subgroup. In 2014, 67 percent of American Indian students graduated from high school compared the national average of 80 percent.
Although most college-level math and science courses require two years of algebra, roughly one quarter of high schools with the highest percentages of Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino students do not offer a second year.*
Only half of eighth-grade science teachers who teach Black/African-American students indicate they have all or most of the resources they need compared to 65 percent of those who teach white students.*
67 percent of those who teach science to higher income students report having adequate resources, compared to only 56 percent of those who teach lower income students.*
Why might this be the case?
Too few solutions target why young people today do not pursue the coursework they need to develop relevant skills and secure rewarding jobs. To be motivated to pursue a career, young people must not only be aware of the career, but must understand why the career matters as well as the educational or training pathway needed to prepare them for that career.
Typically underrepresented students, however, are less likely to amass the social capital - the formal and informal networks of friends, family and mentors - who can help them access the insider knowledge associated with well-paying, high-opportunity jobs. Native youth and Native education are in a state of emergency. Low rates of educational attainment perpetuate a cycle of limited opportunity for higher education or economic success for American Indians and Alaska Natives. Data on students from immigrant families suggest that they may be particularly unaware of how abstract high-skills classes, like mathematics, connect with their future aspirations. The situation for underrepresented girls is just as grim: studies demonstrate that they often lack adequate academic and career information, may choose not to pursue STEM subjects or may be even actively discouraged from taking the very coursework that prepares them for STEM careers.
There is hope.
Translating abstract learning into real-world career applications helps students both to master traditional material at a deeper level and to perceive learning as relevant and engaging. Known as career challenges, these simulations of on-the-job-tasks allow students to apply what they are learning in their course or program to real-world scenarios. When this happens in a learning environment where young people already congregate (like a classroom, mentoring program such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters, post-secondary course or workforce development training program), students from all backgrounds benefit greatly.
These high-quality resources benefit every student. This is why the 114th Partnership offers them free to everyone. We receive specialized funding to deploy additional resources to educators and students most in need of extra support. We prioritize program implementation in predominately underrepresented student populations. We are proud to say that our grant-funded community projects serve populations with 65 percent or more traditionally underrepresented students. Our evaluative results don’t differ between genders or ethnicity.
To learn how you can help us achieve our goal of reaching 1,000,000 students by 2020 or to learn more about our organization, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Sources available upon request.