Bug Girl is citing a new report (pdf download link), “A National Analysis of Minorities in Science and Engineering Faculties at Research Universities”, in which 100 departments representing 15 disciplines of engineering and science (including social science) were surveyed. As we might expect, the results suck. Actually, the results suck even worse than the authors (Dr. Donna Nelson, supervising Christopher N. Brammer and Heather Rhoads) probably realise. But before I get ahead of myself, let me share some of what they had to say.
The U.S. population is increasing in Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans, known collectively as underrepresented minorities (URMs). Also, the women’s share of the general U.S. work force continues to increase. Together, URMs and women constitute almost two-thirds of the U.S. population; as their representations increase in the work force, underutilizing their talent and potential in science and engineering is not only impractical, but also detrimental to the nation’s future success.
There are several factors to look at when examining such statistics. These include the percentage of the minority in the overall national population, who complete an undergraduate degree, who complete a graduate degree, who apply for faculty positions, and who are hired as faculty. The authors do a nice job of going through these steps in their paper. Let’s take this step-wise. (Note: For easier reading, I removed the citation numbers that were in the original text, as indicated by ellipses within or between sentences.)
The percentage of the minority in the overall national population.
Although the representation of Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans in the 2006 U.S. population was estimated … to be 12.8%, 14.8%, and 1.1%, respectively, their representation at almost each point in academia is lower.
The percentage of the minority who complete a graduate degree.
Between the years 1986-1995 and 1996-2005, the percentage of Ph.D. recipients who are URMs increased by about 2.5%, a growth rate below that of females (5.9%). This increase in representation among Ph.D. recipients is much less than the 7% increase in URM representation in the U.S. population from 1980-2000 (18.8 % to 25.9%). … Most of this 7% increase can be attributed to a rise in the Hispanic population (from 6.4% to 12.6%).
The percentage of the minority who complete an undergraduate degree;
On average, URM representation in Ph.D. attainment drops from that in B.S. attainment by a factor of 2 to 3.
The percentage of the minority who apply for faculty positions;
Comparing representations of URMs, shows a disparity between their representations among 1996 – 2005 Ph.D. recipients (the hiring pool) versus FY2007 assistant professors (faculty most recently hired) at the top 100 departments of most disciplines (Table 4).
The percentage of the minority who are hired as faculty.
As seen in Table 1, the few minority faculty members present in academia are usually concentrated in the lower ranks, chiefly as assistant professors. For example, in sociology all URMs combined represent 19.2% of assistant professors (newest hires), 11.1% of associate professors, and 10.8% of “full” professors in FY2007. In only 3 of the 15 disciplines surveyed in FY2007 are the majority of URM faculty at the rank of associate professor. In no discipline surveyed was the highest percentage of URMs at the rank of “full” professor. The opposite is true for White males.
Unfortunately, in the past twenty years the number of graduate degrees in the biological/medical sciences has doubled, but the number of faculty positions is roughly the same. (There are plenty of recent PhD graduates in these sciences who end up as post-doc researchers for some years before getting hired as professors, or eventually move out of academia into industry for better wages et cetera.)
Okay, so we know that college degrees and the number of professors among ethnic minorities lags behind population averages. Alas, not shocking news. This doesn’t bode well for overall employment levels, and also means a lack of role models for college students, as the authors point out:
If minority professors are not hired, treated fairly, and retained, minority students perceive that they will experience the same. This will not encourage them to persist in that discipline.
But here’s the kicker: what kind of person is considered to be of a “minority”?
We know that today’s students are more diverse than they used to. In fact, the fresh-out-of-high-school student is no longer the main sort of person filling all those lecture hall seats. Over 73% are “Non-Traditional” students (over 25 years old, and/or married, and/or with children).
Still, aside from ethnic background and age, we’re still missing a large segment of the population from studies. What is the largest minority in the US?
It’s not a racial group. The authors are only considering racial or ethnic groups as “minorities”. Hmn … when I searched my state’s universities’ Web sites for “minority” I got links for “multicultural”, meaning “African-American, Native American, Hispanic and Asian”. Searching for “diversity” yielded more information about minorities, and clicking on enough links would lead me to a smattering of other links for religious studies & organisations, disabled student access office & organisation, and if I dug far enough, links for the local LGBT organisation.
Certainly students with disabilities who take longer to complete degrees, and students who experience great difficulties in higher education and are not diagnosed with special education needs until they are adults, are also in the Non-Traditional category.
Despite Tony Attwood’s half-serious joke about the number of people with Asperger’s in engineering departments, the number of people with various disabilities are still highly under-represented in higher education. Per a 2002 Census Bureau report, 18% of the US population has a disability. Of all Americans in the 25-64 year age range, 43% were college graduates, but only 22% of those degreed adults had severe disabilities and 33% had non-severe disabilities. However, the numbers for current disabled students is much lower, comprising only 11% of the undergraduate student body.
The points that the report by Nelson, Brammer & Rhoads makes about transitions from secondary school to college, and from undergraduate to graduate school, and to employment as professors, and then having diversity in the faculty to encourage further minority graduates, are very important points. I included them here because they are important, and because they also apply equally well to people with various disabilities.
Reports like this one are necessary, not only for the data results tracking trends, but also for the analyses that describe issues. But when they focus only upon racial background and sex, they not only miss identifying the largest yet most under-represented minority population, they also perpetuate the cloak of invisibility.