Wednesday, April 12, 2000

 

 

 

Federal Report Sees Threats to Diversity in Science Corps

Wednesday, April 12, 2000, Chronicle of Higher Education

 

By JOEL HARDI

 

                                                                                        

The number of science and engineering degrees awarded to women and members of minority groups has increased substantially in the past 20 years, but recent court decisions and state laws threaten to halt that growth, concludes a report issued Tuesday by the National Science and Technology Council.

 

The council, which comprises officials from the federal agencies that support university-based research, cites evidence --

including low unemployment in science and technology jobs and the shortage of temporary work visas for foreign scientists --

that research and industry jobs in science and technology are becoming harder to fill. It predicts that, without efforts to lure

more students into the sciences, a worker shortage of "devastating consequences" could result.

 

"I am concerned we are not doing enough to increase participation, through actions of government, industry, or academia,"

Neal F. Lane, the president's science adviser, said at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

on Tuesday. "And I am worried that it seems to be getting harder, not easier, to make progress, in part due to new legal and

political pressures that reduce our options."

 

The report attributes enrollment declines among black and Hispanic students to state and federal court decisions and state laws

in Washington and California that banned racial preferences in college admissions. A separate study by the science association

found that enrollment by such students in graduate science and engineering programs at major research universities declined by

nearly 20 percent in 1997.

 

Other barriers facing minority students and women who might seek to enter the science and technology fields include a shortage of mentors and role models at all levels of education, lengthy graduate programs and uncertain job prospects, and a lack of financial resources to pursue long-term study, according to the report.

 

The council's report also concludes that the federal government -- which 21 percent of science and engineering graduate

students identified as their major source of support in a 1997 survey -- must, in cooperation with the private sector, expand

financing for scholarships, fellowships, traineeships, research assistantships, and other research experiences and internships.

Federal programs should also focus on easing transitions from high school to college, from two-year to four-year colleges, and

from college to the graduate and postgraduate levels.

 

Mr. Lane also challenged colleges to increase the proportion of science graduates who are women or members of minority

groups, to include math and science courses in general graduation requirements, and to produce better math and science

schoolteachers.

 

The report, "Ensuring a Strong U.S. Scientific, Technical, and Engineering Workforce in the 21st Century," is available online.

(This very large file must be viewed with an Adobe Acrobat reader.)