GIS Educational Opportunities at Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States
Malhotra, Rakesh, Vlahovic, Gordana, Southeastern Geographer
This study examines the role Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) play in the GIS educational landscape in the United States. Research of HBCU institutional web sites was used to develop a database of GIS and related geospatial courses, concentrations, degrees, and departments offering these courses. The review of this information indicated strong differences in access to GIS education for students between rural and urban settings, community colleges and universities, and private and public HBCUs. The availability of GIS technology at HBCUs and at other institutions of higher education was also contrasted to examine the existence of a technology divide and data show that HBCUs have kept in step with other institutions in introducing GIS into their curriculum. In formation from a similar study conducted almost a decade ago (Padgett and Crayton 2001) was used to determine advances in GIS educational offerings at HBCUs over the recent past. As employability trends for geography graduates show increasing emphasis on transferable technical skills--like GIS, the availability of geaspatial courses, programs, and certifications at HBCUs is critical to increasing diversity in geography as a profession and, in the long run, the vitality of geography as a discipline. Unfortunately, the advent of GIS has not had any material impact on the establishment of core geography programs at HBCUs.
Este estudio examina el papel que las Universidades Historicamente Negras (HBCU) juegan en el panorama educativo de los SIG en los Estados Unidos. Una investigacion de las paginas web institucionales de las HBCU se utilizo para desarrollar una base de datos de SIG y cursos geoespaciales relacionados, concentraciones, grados, y departumentos ofreciendo estos cursos. La revision de esta informacidn indica fuertes diferencias en el acceso a la educacion en SIG para estudiantes entre el medio rural y urbano, community colleges y universidades, y las HBCU tanto publicas como privadas. La disponibilidad de la tecnologia SIG en las HBCU y en otras instituciones de educacion superior se contrasto tambien al examinar la existencia de una brecha tecnologica y los datos muestran que las HBCU se ban mantenido a la par con otras instituciones en introducir los SIG en su curriculo. Informacion de un estudio similar realizado hace casi una decada (Padgett y Crayton 2001)rue utilizada para determinar los avances en las ofertas educativas de SIG en las HBCU en el pasado reciente. A la vez que las tendencias de adquirir un empleo para los graduados de geografia muestran un creciente enfasis en conocimientos tecnicos transferibles-como los SIG, la disponibilidad de cursas geoespaciales, programas y certificados en las HBCU son fundamentales para aumentar la diversidad en la geografia como profesion y, a largo plazo, la vitalidad de la geografia como disciplina. Por desgracia, la llegada de los SIG no ha tenido ningun impacto material sobre el establecimiento de programas de geografia en las HBCU.
KEY WORDS: diversity, GIS, higher education
The Employment and Training Administration (United States Department of Labor) recently identified geospatial technology as one of 14 "high growth" sectors in its High Growth Job Training Initiative. This clearly indicates that Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and other geospatial technologies are changing geography both as a discipline and a career option. As minority students are generally exposed to their final career choice at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), it is important to study the availability and access to GIS programs and certifications provided to students by HBCUs. It is particularly interesting to see if the gains geography and GIS have achieved during the last decade in non-minority focusing universities have similarly been replicated at HBCUs. Kerski (2008) argues that to fully benefit from the explosion of GIS and geospatial technologies, it is not enough that more courses, certification options and programs are available on university campuses. What is truly needed is a community of educators and network of people and institutions committed to advancing GIS education. This study examines the potential for existence of such a network among HBCUs.
First, the status of geography at universities in the United States is reviewed followed by a brief discussion on how the mission and challenges facing HBCUs have changed over time. Special emphasis is placed on the impact that HBCUs have had on increasing the diversity of the workforce in science and technology, which includes geography and geospatial technology graduates. Data collected on the availability of GIS courses, programs, and certifications at HBCUs during the spring of 2010 were analyzed and compared with a similar database from 2001 (Padgett and Crayton). The distribution of courses, certifications and degree offerings in GIS across HBCUs is discussed in terms of types of institutions (terminal degree offered, public vs. private, size) and home department offering GIS.
How these results impact the future diversity of the geospatial workforce, presence of geography and the level of integration of GIS into other disciplines at HBCUs are also presented. If the trend of increasing presence of GIS in a variety of disciplines and the related trend of increasing relevance of geography as a discipline observed at predominantly white institutions (PWI) is present at HBCUs, it will signal that the future of geography in terms of diversity is bright. Otherwise, a concerted effort is required to increase the prevalence of geography and GIS at HBCUs so that graduates from these institutions continue to find gainful employment in these fields.
A total of 103 educational institutions designated as HBCUs by the White House initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities were included in this study (1). Of these, 60 are located in Southeastern United States making it the largest concentration of HBCUs in one region of the country. Due to the traditionally low response rate to mail-in surveys from geography departments (Association of American Geographers 2006) data collection for this study was based solely on the search of information present on institutional web sites. The institutional websites were last accessed and information confirmed between May 22, 2010 and July 8, 2010. Institutional websites were searched for the following information: geography degrees offered (major, minor, concentration or graduate degree); departments offering the geography degree or GIS related courses; GIS and related courses offered; GIS degree, concentration, or certification offered. Following keywords were used during the search to identify GIS related content either in the title or the description of the course: "geographic," "geospatial," "information," "GIS," "remote sensing," "GPS," "global positioning," "ArcInfo," "ArcGIS," or "ArcView." When available, the most current undergraduate and graduate course catalogs posted online were searched first, followed by the search of main institutional websites. At the time of the survey all 103 HBCUs had at least some online presence with 86 out of 103 institution course catalogs posted online. The final database compiled from this search contains the following fields: HBCU name, state, address, web address, location classification (urban or rural), academic type (college or university), governance (public or private), enrollment, geography department (yes or no), allied department(s) names, geography degree(s) offered (not offered or degree name(s)), GIS concentration (not offered or concentration name(s)), GIS certification (not offered or certification name(s)), GIS courses (not offered or course names and catalog numbers), latitude and longitude, date information was last accessed, and web link to the course catalog.
The results of this study were evaluated against a survey of GIS and geography programs at HBCUs conducted in 2001 by Padgett and Crayton to understand the changes in GIS education as HBCUs over the past decade. The comparison was, however, limited by the difference in the number of institutions evaluated and type of information that was collected. For example, 2001 database recorded if geography and GIS courses were offered or not, without specifying number of courses, their names, and catalog numbers (which indicate the level at which GIS is introduced into the curriculum). The 2001 database also kept track of presence or absence of geography programs without specifying the type (minor, major, or graduate degree) and information about other departments' involvement in geospatial education or GIS certifications or concentrations was also not recorded. Two other studies (Tas 2000; Cheung 2007) that have looked at the broader presence of GIS offerings at educational institutions all across the United States were also used to compare and draw conclusions about differences between HBCUs and PWIs.
GEOGRAPHY AND GIS AT NON-HBCUS
Exponential growth of GIScience and GIS during the last decade has been credited as one of the main reasons for the improved academic standing of geography programs and departments at U.S. colleges and universities. This renewed interest in geography and recognition of the intellectual potential of the discipline that sheds light on topics from economics and globalization to climate change, are the most significant positive changes since the doubling of the enrollment in geography programs during the 1960s and 1970s (Murphy 2007). Unfortunately, the latter did not translate into more secure footing of geography departments in U.S. institutions of higher education. Therefore, during the last few decades of the 20th century geography continued to be viewed as marginal discipline. This status of geography as "science light" was underlined by closing of the geography departments at several prestigious universities, with Harvard leading the pack, at the peak of the general enrolment explosion in the decades following the Second World War (Dobson 2007). Thus, the series of closures of geography programs in response to economic stressors during the 1970s and 1980s came as no surprise and reinforced the view of geography as a non-essential subject at the postsecondary education level. Although the status of geography as a discipline and thus geography departments is improving, the present numbers still reflect the purge of geography that occurred at US universities in the second part of the 20th century. For example, although about 20 percent of baccalaureate institutions (private and public) offer geography degrees, only 3 percent of the private baccalaureate and masters institutions do the same (Sinton 2009). In fact, in 2007 only 2 out of 20 top private universities had geography departments in comparison to 15 out of top 20 public universities (Dobson 2007).
Gains in the number of geography departments, geography majors and geography faculty during the last ten years--in spite of financial struggle most universities are facing--signals an important shift towards the increasing relevance of geography in a wide range of university settings. The revival is probably due to the interplay of many unlike factors that brought spatial phenomena to the forefront of public attention, including globalization and terrorism, awareness of connectedness and fragility of Earth systems due to the threat of climate change and environmental degradation, the constant presence of natural disasters in the media as well as the ease of information access due to the internet revolution. In addition, more pragmatic factors probably mattered as well, for example the expanding job market for graduates with geospatial training (Brickely and Micken 2007). However, one factor that stands out is the increasing presence of GIS and geospatial technology in everyday lives, as well as the academic and business environments.
As appreciation of GIS at universities across the nation increases, faculty members are using GIS to include geospatial and critical thinking, hands-on community mapping and service learning projects, research, and internships, not only in GIS "friendly" geography departments but campus wide (Sinton 2009). Regardless, GIS and geospatial technology have a natural academic home in geography departments and it is expected that they will benefit the most from recent embrace of spatial thinking and analyses. Only time will show if the popularity of GIS and geospatial technologies will have more success in permanently anchoring geography at American universities.
THE CHANGING ROLE OF HBCUS IN THE EDUCATIONAL LANDSCAPE
HBCUs were established before 1964, at a time when they were the only institutions of higher education open to African Americans. However, with the percentage of degrees earned by Blacks at HBCUs as a percentage of all degrees earned by Blacks decreasing, the very purpose of HBCUs is questioned as a relic of an earlier, segregated era (Provasnik and sharer 2004). For example, during the three decades from 1977 to 2006 the fraction of African Americans receiving their bachelor's degrees at HBCUs fell by 15 percent. At the same time the number of PhD degrees in science and engineering awarded to African Americans who earned their bachelor degree at HBCUs fell by 7 percent and averaged about the same per 1,000 bachelor degrees awarded as at non-minority institutions (Burrelli and Rapoport 2008).
Advocates of HBCUs emphasize the disproportional percentage of black community, professional, and academic leaders that graduated from HBCUs, and attribute this to the advantage of an education received in a non-judgmental, inspiring, and racial-identity affirming setting (Freeman and Thomas 2002). For instance, more than 50 percent of black lawyers, 80 percent of black judges, and more than half of all black professors at non-HBCUs graduated from historically black universities (Provasnik and Sharer 2004). Freeman and Thomas (2002) also point out that contrary to the popular belief that HBCUs enroll many students that would not qualify for attendance at other institutions, the academic profile of African Americans attending PWIs and HBCUs is similar. However, African Americans seem to benefit more by attending HBCUs rather than PWIs and report higher levels of satisfaction with the academic environment, achieve higher intellectual gains, express more social and political awareness, and aspire more often to continue their education at the graduate level (Fries-Britt and Turner 2002).
Critics of continued state and federal support for the HBCUs (2.65 billion per year, 2005 dollars) question the level of academic preparedness by HBCU graduates and the assumption that HBCUs are the best choice for African Americans (Fryer and Greenstone 2007). For example, Thernstorm and Thernstorm opine in a Wall Street Journal article (2007) that the main reason behind higher retention and graduation rates of African Americans at HBCUs may be that there is no mismatch between students' preparedness and academic expectations--hinting at low academic standards of HBCUs. Another fact used by the critics as an indicator of poor relative performance of HBCUs is that their graduates face substantial wage penalty of up to 20 percent. Importantly, difference in pay rates of African American HBCUs vs. PWIs graduates observed since 1990s cannot be explained by pre-college differences of matriculates (Fryer and Greenstone 2007). On the other hand, even staunch doubters of the necessity of HBCUs in the present educational scene cannot deny the role that they play in enhancing diversity of the next generation of scientist and engineers; this more than five decades after the Supreme Court ordered desegregation of the education system.
DIVERSITY IN GEOSPATIAL SCIENCES
One of the motivations for this study was to explore to what degree are students at HBCUs exposed to GIS and geospatial technology and to investigate if the presence of this content in other departments can compensate for lack of geography programs and still produce the more diverse geography workforce of the future. The future of geography and other geosciences disciplines (geology, earth sciences, etc.) is threatened on two fronts: 1) by the general decline in students' interest in STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines and 2) by demographic changes resulting in a more diverse population (Pearson 2008). As the US population becomes increasingly multi-racial, geography will face an uncertain future if it fails to improve the strategy to enroll, graduate and promote minorities.
The under-representation of African Americans in geosciences is well documented and geosciences are actually performing the worst among all STEM disciplines in terms of diversity (American Geological Institute 2010). For instance, although in 2008 African Americans comprised 13 percent of total enrolment in 4-year U.S. colleges and universities, they received only 0.7 percent of all geosciences degrees awarded. The higher the degree, the greater the number of programs that missed national graduation benchmarks, with PhD programs being less diverse than other levels of education (Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation 2005).
A recent study by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) highlights some of the characteristics of geosciences that may prevent minorities from considering a career in these fields (Levine et al. 2009). These include the small size of geoscience programs and the related lack of awareness of geoscience careers and role models and poor availability of geoscience courses at high school level, which is further reinforced by non-existence of courses and programs at HBCUs and other MSI (where minorities are disproportionally represented). HBCUs are critical for graduation of African Americans in STEM fields because students feel more supported and free to major in physical disciplines. Williams et al. (2007) write that SO percent of BS degrees in physics received by African Americans in 2004 were awarded at HBCUs. For geosciences this number drops to 12 percent, a direct result of the small number of HBCUs offering geoscience degrees. Critical for recruitment of students to the less known majors, like geography, seems to be the exposure to the discipline (Levine et al. 2007) and the fact that most HBCUs do not have geosciences degree granting programs does not bode well for the participation of African Americans. Cultivating existent and developing new geosciences undergraduate degree programs at flagship HBCUs are the most important steps for improving representation of African Americans in geosciences professions (Williams et al. 2007). Furthermore, negative stereotypes and academic isolation, obstacles that result in African Americans avoiding geosciences majors, can also be resolved by offering geosciences courses and degree programs at HBCUs.
GEOGRAPHY AND GIS AT HBCUS
In 2001, Padgett and Crayton conducted a survey of GIS and geography programs at HBCUs with online presence at the time of the study (85 institutions). The 2001 survey found that while only 6 percent of HBCUs offered degrees in geography, 12 percent offered courses with the words "GIS" in the course title and 20 percent offered courses that use GIS in their content (Roach 2001). In 2010 a separate survey, described in Methodology section that included 103 institutions classified as HBCUs on the White House HBCU list was conducted by faculty from Fayetteville State University and North Carolina Central University. Out of 85 HBCUs surveyed by Dr. Padgett in 2001, 79 were on the White House HBCU list in 2010. Of those 79, it was found that 6 percent offered a degree/major in geography, 11 percent offered a minor in geography/GIS, and 62 percent offered courses in geospatial technologies. This indicates that even though geography as a degree has not seen much progress during the last ten years, geospatial technology offerings have made considerable inroads at HBCUs. This disparity is probably due to the fact that HBCUs normally have smaller cohorts and find it easier to include GIS into existing departments and degree offerings rather than starting new ones. Even though the data indicate that gains in geospatial education at HBCUs do not translate directly into gains for geography as a discipline, it is encouraging to see the proliferation of GIS as a technology at HBCUs.
The remainder of this discussion is based on the 103 HBCUs surveyed in 2010. Degree programs, GIS concentration, GIS certificates, or GIS courses are offered at about half (54) the institutions whereas the other half (49) did not offer any GIS. However, only two of the 49 institutions that did not offer any GIS have enrollment higher than 5,000 students. The lack of GIS courses in smaller HBCUs is understandable due to paucity of resources or concentration on specific programs. This means that GIS education in some form is reaching most of the students enrolled in HBCUs. Of the 54 institutions that offered GIS education, the survey revealed that almost half (24) offered 3 or more courses in GIS and other related tools; GIS courses were almost always supported by complementary courses in remote sensing. Because only few HBCUs house Geography, Geosciences, or Geospatial Sciences departments (see Figure 1), GIS education at HBCUs is offered through a variety of allied departments such as Environmental Science, Computer Science, Agriculture, Government and History, Natural Sciences, and Mathematics, etc. This confirms that GIS has gained acceptance as a tool in a wide array of fields and disciplines. However, it also leads us to believe that the success of integrating GIS education at many HBCUs will have limited effect on the prominence of geography as a discipline as programs have developed out of a desire to include GIS teaching in other applied fields rather than originated from core geography.
Figures 1 to 3 present the spatial distribution of HBCUs (southeastern United States) and their status as it relates to GIS education. The maps and data show that more needs to be done to promote geography and GIS education at HBCUs. For example, only six HBCUs have Geography or Geospatial Sciences Departments (Figure 1), only 15 of the 103 HBCUs offer a degree or minor in Geography (Figure 2), and only 10 of the 103 institutions offer a concentration in GIS or a GIS Certificate program (Figure 3). Divisions along familiar fault lines such as urban/rural, public/ private, and college/university are clearly discernable and need to be acted upon. Of the 8 HBCUs designated as rural, only 1 (13 percent) offers courses in GIS whereas 53 out of the remaining 95 institutions classified as urban (56 percent) offer GIS courses. Only 14/53 (26 percent) of the private HBCUs offer GIS courses as opposed to 40/50 (80 percent) public institutions. At the smaller institutions classified as colleges, only 13 of the 45 (29 percent) offer GIS and at the larger institutions classified as universities, 41/58 (71 percent) offer GIS. It is striking to see that all the 1S HBCUs that offer a degree or minor in geography are urban, public, and all but one are classified as universities.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
The survey conducted for this study focused on HBCUs. However, a comparison with other studies on GIS education at higher educational institutions across the United States shows similarities and differences between HBCUs and PWIs. Sinton (2009) pointed out a private/public divide in geography degree offerings (3 percent, private; 20 percent, public) which is also prevalent in HBCUs (2 percent, private; 28 percent, public). Another study by Tas (2000) shows that GIS education is predominantly the domain of larger institutions "probably due to the financial, technological and academic challenges." This difference in larger and smaller institutions is similar to what was observed in the HBCU survey. However, data collected by Cheung (2007) show that out of 466 academic institutions that offered any level of GIS education, 194 (42 percent) offer "individual courses that do not culminate in any formal qualification." For HBCUs, this percentage is higher (61 percent) where 54 institutions offer GIS education out of which 33 offer GIS courses but no formal qualifications. This difference indicates that GIS education at HBCUs is catching on but still lags behind offerings at PWIs in terms of degree, minor or certification. This is probably due to the fact that at HBCUs, GIS courses are more likely to be found in allied departments rather than in a well established geography department. At most HBCUs, GIS courses are housed in natural, environmental, or agricultural sciences departments, followed by departments that focus on urban planning, mathematics, computer science, engineering, or other social sciences such as history, public administration, or criminal justice. In rare instances they are also offered through other physical science departments such as biology, or through continuing education or business schools.
Of all the facts and comparisons produced in this study, the most important, in the authors' opinion, is that over the past decade GIS course offerings at HBCUs have generally kept pace with GIS offerings at PWIs. However, the one key metric (percentage of institutions that offer GIS courses but no formal qualifications in GIS), 42 percent for PWIs and 61 percent for HBCUs, shows the negative effects of dispersion around allied departments that is faced by GIS at HBCUs. It can be concluded that the advance of GIS at HBCUs has not led to a corresponding advance in geography as a discipline, as evidenced by the lack of new geography programs or departments at HBCUs. In order for all the aspects of geography (physical and social geography) to make inroads into HBCUs and flourish, this has to change. That adoption and teaching of geospatial technologies is important in a higher educational setting but this comprehensive approach is particularly important at HBCUs if the 'negative stereotypes and academic isolation' have to be tackled and diversity in the geosciences disciplines improved. Tas (2000) states that 94 percent of all Geography departments surveyed indicated that GIS offerings increased enrollment in the department. This strong impact of GIS offerings should be emulated at HBCUs and form the foundation to expand geography programs. Institutions that offer only GIS courses should be encouraged to expand their availability and reach into concentrations and/or certificate programs. Existing programs (degrees, certificates, and minors) should build human and social geography elements around the techniques (remote sensing and GIS).
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]
As minority students are generally exposed to their final career choice at HBCUs, Geography and Geosciences have to compete with established options such as Criminal Justice, Public Administration, Education, and Business. Efforts should also be made to connect geography and GIS to current issues such as sustainability, climate change, and disaster management. Moreover, a strong push to match geography students with internships and an emphasis on critical thinking and service learning would lead to geography gaining traction as an 'employable' discipline. This will slowly but surely bring about a change in the negative stereotypes associated with the geosciences. Within the HBCU realm, there is also some evidence of a digital divide based on location (urban/rural), institution level (college/university), and type (public/private) and efforts should be made to bridge this gap. This divide can probably be addressed by expanding the availability of course offerings and certificate options (at the technician level) at community colleges. Such an expansion will lead to students connecting to geosciences and being better prepared to take advantage of GIS degree programs at colleges and universities. Another key factor that is sorely lacking at HBCUs is a community of educators and networks of people (faculty and students) to promote geosciences. This again can be blamed on the fragmentation of GIS education at HBCUS. The most common information exchange is an HBCU GIS Listserve with regular postings about conferences, workshops and internships recruiting minority students. This has to change into more active platforms that facilitate direct faculty and student interactions. Active interactions can be achieved by promoting an HBCU-GIS Conference circuit, social media specifically targeting students, and joint programs that provide seamless transition from the undergraduate level to the Master's and Doctoral levels for HBCU students to both HBCU and non-HBCU institutions offering these graduate degrees.
It is important to consider this study as just what it is--a snapshot. The fact that a similar study was conducted almost a decade ago added to the information that was presented. However, due to the difference in information gathered, only limited comparisons were possible. This can potentially be eliminated in the future as the current dataset (2010) is more detailed than the previous one. The authors are also aware of the limitations of this study, such as exclusive reliance on online information about available GIS and geography programs, the fact that courses in the online catalog do not always translate into courses taught, focus on measures of quantity and not quality of the programs, accuracy of the online data, and assumptions that existence of the programs translates into educational opportunity. However, this database is a good starting point for the next step which is gathering information that will be updated at least every academic year and data that will be verified by direct contact with colleges and universities.
For many years in the recent past, geography as a discipline has declined at the higher education level. The fact that it straddles both social and natural sciences, instead of acting in its favor has probably been detrimental. With the current push to promote STEM education, it is important that geography is not once again 'lost in translation.' A concerted effort is required to include physical geography and related geospatial technologies under the broad STEM umbrella. It is clear, from this and other similar studies, that over the past decade GIS has made considerable strides as evidenced by course offering at PWIs and HBCUs. Therefore, it is up to the proponents of GIS to ensure that the mistakes of the recent past are not repeated. This advance in one aspect of geographic thought should be used to advance geography as a discipline. The fact that spatial thought is important is social and technical settings should be turned into an everlasting advantage for geography.
The authors would like to thank Dr. David Padgett (Tennessee State University) and anonymous reviewers for constructive comments that improved this manuscript. This study was in part supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant Nos. 0607961 and 0625092. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
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Fayetteville State University
North Carolina Central University
RAKESH MAL HOTRA is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Government at the Fayetteville State University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. His research interests include GIS education as well as application of geospatial technologies to hazard mitigation. GORDANA VLAHOVIC is an Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental, Earth and Geospatial Sciences at the North Carolina Central University. Email: email@example.com. Her primary research interests are in the areas of intraplate seismotectonics and geoscience education.…
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Publication information: Article title: GIS Educational Opportunities at Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the United States. Contributors: Malhotra, Rakesh - Author, Vlahovic, Gordana - Author. Journal title: Southeastern Geographer. Volume: 51. Issue: 3 Publication date: Fall 2011. Page number: 443+. © 2009 University of North Carolina Press. COPYRIGHT 2011 Gale Group.
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