Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Challenges and Supports for African American STEM Student Persistence: A Case Study at a Racially Diverse Four-Year Institution

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Challenges and Supports for African American STEM Student Persistence: A Case Study at a Racially Diverse Four-Year Institution

Article excerpt


Technology and shifting market forces have reshaped the global economy, creating a demand for highly educated works in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, (STEM). The United States has struggled to graduate STEM majors at a rate proportionate to the growth of jobs in this sector. As a consequence of insufficient graduates in STEM majors, the National Academies (2006) and its Committee on Prospering in the Global Economy of the 21st Century, predicts that 90% of science jobs will soon be lost to workers overseas. If this trend continues, it will weaken domestic markets and the economic power of the nation. The problem of depressed graduation rates in STEM subjects, is confounded by the field's relative failure to attract and retain students of diversity (National Science Foundation, NSF, 2015; Tsui, 2007). Discussions of how to diversify the STEM field are central to strategies for increasing the number of STEM matriculants in higher education given predicted demographic trends that indicate ethnic minorities will surpass the White majority by 2050 in the U.S. (Palmer, Davis, & Thompson, 2010). Furthermore, racial stratification of the STEM field, in a society which struggles to overcome the intersection of race, class, and poverty, presents an additional moral and ethical dilemma (Oates, 2004).

The low presence of underrepresented minority (URM) students in STEM majors remains a reality underlined by decades of research and statistics derived from national reporting (Hurtado et al., 2007; NSF, 2015; Palmer, Maramba, & Dancy, 2011; Taylor, McGowan, & Alston, 2008). Nationally, only 2.5% of URM 24-year-olds earn a bachelor's degree in the sciences, compared with 6% of Whites (NSF, 2015). Degree completion rates are similarly demarcated by racial lines: Whereas 25% of White STEM majors complete a degree within four years, only 13.2% of Black students and 15.9% of Latino students, who intend to major in a STEM field, complete degrees within the same timeframe (Eagan, Hurtado, & Chang, 2010)

In this study, the authors focused on African American students because, first, as a minority group they are particularly underrepresented in STEM disciplines in relation to their proportion in the total population (NSF, 2015; Palmer, Maramba, & Dancy, 2011). According to the U.S. Department of Labor (2007) preparing the American workforce for entry to STEM careers requires attention to segments of the population, such as African Americans, who have encountered systemic barriers in access to the field. Second, knowledge of those factors that undergird the retention of African American students at four-year institutions is growing, yet less is known about how their educational experiences are conditioned by academic major at racially diverse institutions. As such, these authors were interested in conducting an in-depth investigation of the academic and social experiences of African American students enrolled in STEM majors, in an effort to unveil factors that could inform strategic programs and interventions, to sustain and improve the persistence patterns of African American STEM students

Review of Literature

The Academic and Social Dimensions of Student Success

The substantial cost of college student attrition at the institutional, individual, and societal level accounts the voluminous research and theory, dedicated to examination of underlying causes of student attrition from college (Kuh et al., 2006; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Most widely recognized is Tinto's social interactionalist theory that discusses the process of student adjustment as a dynamic between students' social and academic experiences (Tinto, 1975, 2006). From this framework student persistence is predicated on the one's ability to keep up academically, and successfully individuate from one's family of origin and assimilate into campus life. The constructs of academic preparation and social integration have proven useful is the examination of systemic disadvantages URM students experience in relation to academic preparation and social integration. …

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