Academic journal article Educational Foundations

The Significance of HBCUs to the Production of STEM Graduates: Answering the Call

Academic journal article Educational Foundations

The Significance of HBCUs to the Production of STEM Graduates: Answering the Call

Article excerpt

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are areas designated as STEM disciplines. There is national and international attention being given to these fields as they are the foundation for partnerships and alliances in the global economy. Education beyond high school is necessary to achieve desired levels of competency and efficiency in STEM fields. Despite the demonstrated need, there is a shortage of individuals trained in these areas, especially women and ethnic minorities (BHEF, 2006). Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have contributed meaningfully to addressing the void of qualified STEM educators and researchers (Allen, 2002).

It has been noted that a majority of students in the United States do not reach adequate levels of proficiency in STEM courses (Kuenzi, 2008). A number of contributing factors have been identified. A large percentage of students do not enroll in rigorous science and mathematics courses in middle and high school (ACT, 2006). As a result, many who graduate from high school have relatively low science and/or mathematics ability and may not continue in these fields at post-secondary levels (BHEF, 2006).

In addition to course selections, poor student performance has been attributed to an inadequate supply of qualified STEM teachers (Barnett, 2004; Vandevoort, 2004). Math and science teachers may not always have the credentials to teach in those fields, impacting student achievement (Boyd, Grossman, Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckofif, 2006). Statistics compiled on out-of-field teaching demonstrate a disparity. Although middle and high school teachers may have a state teaching certification and a baccalaureate degree, those teaching math and science courses may not have earned a major or minor in those specific academic areas (Boyd, Goldhaber, Hamilton, & Wyckoff, 2007; Cochran-Smith, 2004; Kuenzi, 2008).

Review of the Literature

The academic preparation of teachers has implications for the curriculum of STEM education. The infrastructure and pedagogy of conventional STEM education has been under review, as too many students lose interest in STEM subjects at an early age, with fewer students pursing advanced degrees (Decker, 2004; Kane, Rockoff, & Staiger, 2006). Evidence of effective practices and activities in STEM education is inconclusive (U.S. Department of Education, 2007). The lack of interaction between disciplines has been implicated as a contributing factor to this shortcoming (Paterson, 2007).

Educational reforms have been charged with attracting more students and teachers to the STEM fields (Barnett, 2004; BHEF, 2006). The presentation of content for STEM classes as unique to each subject, in sequence or concurrently, is being challenged. Integrative approaches have been suggested at the post-secondary level to combine instruction in two or more of the STEM subject areas and/or between/among a STEM subject and one or more other academic subjects (Sanders, 2009). STEM educators are working together across disciplines in pairs or teams is one approach being implemented (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 2009). It has been recognized that elementary grades may offer a unique opportunity for the introduction of integrative approaches to STEM education that may be sustained at higher academic levels (Kane et al., 2006; Levine, 2009; Sanders, 2009).

Aside from educational reforms at the various academic levels, legislative proposals have been introduced over the years to increase the number of programs in federal agencies to support STEM education (Miller, 2011). As a result, the national government has funded programs to promote, expand, and improve STEM education. A number of HBCUs have benefitted from funds that have been designated specifically for minority serving institutions to increase diversity, attracting more females and ethnic minorities (U.S. Department of Education, 2009). …

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