Online Courses Can Be Used to Boost Minority Numbers in STEM Fields

Article excerpt

It is now widely understood that increasing the diversity of the STEM workforce is an effective approach to address the economic and technological challenges faced by our country. However, recent national reports supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other national organizations provide strong evidence to support the prevalence of underrepresentation of women and minorities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines and careers.

Research also indicates that declining minority participation rates in STEM fields are attributed to a lack of institutional support, systemic intransigent attitudes, mendacious recruitment efforts, lack of financial support, professional marginalization, hiring inequities, low academic self-concept and inadequate and unsatisfactory K-12 education programs in math and science.

In 2011, NSF released "Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineering," a statistical report illustrating the involvement of women, ethnic minorities and persons with disabilities in science and engineering fields. Specifically, the report shows that underrepresented students received approximately 17 percent of the science and engineering bachelor's degrees, 10 percent of the science and engineering master's degrees, and 9 percent of the science and engineering doctorates. The NSF report also reveals that minority men and women encompass less than 10 percent of the nation's employed scientists and engineers. While growing steadily over the years, this percentage is disproportionately low, when compared to contemporary census data.

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education projects that the minority workforce will double in the next 10 years. Unfortunately, forecasts regarding minority participation in STEM careers are not as optimistic. Trends indicate a decline in representation at every level of the professional STEM pipeline. According to researchers, these occupational estimates will remain constant if immediate actions are not taken.

Meanwhile, access to online distance education programs has increased significantly in the past decade. Many academic institutions offer a wide variety of online courses and online degrees in STEM. Moreover, millions of college students have reported enrolling in at least one online course while pursuing an academic degree.

One potential method of broadening participation in STEM is the development and implementation of effective online STEM courses, online STEM enrichment programs, valuable online mentoring programs, webinars, and virtual conferences. Widespread web-based delivery of STEM content and instruction may help to connect traditional and nontraditional minority college students and K-12 students from urban, rural, or suburban communities and could significantly improve access to STEM education and increase representation of underserved populations in STEM disciplines and STEM occupations. …