US Must Boost the Ranks Of Minorities Among PhDs

ALTERING the landscape of education as Americans prepare themselves for the next century is the dynamic challenge that confronts all educators as well as corporate and public-sector leaders in our country. Given the projected increase in the number of minorities in the workforce by the year 2000, the lack of national leadership and broad commitment in increasing minority access to higher education is unacceptable. Losing minority students all along the educational pipeline will undermine America's preemi nence in science, industry, and education.

The low level of minority representation at all professional levels in the United States is mirrored in the lack of diversity in the professoriate at most colleges and universities. In the four decades since the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, institutional efforts to sustain meaningful improvements in the educational preparation and achievement of minorities have been mixed, and the results reflect that disparity. While dramatic gains were made from the mid 1950s to 1970 in providing acc ess to higher education, from 1975 to 1990 an alarming erosion took place, particularly for underrepresented minorities, leaving the earlier educational gains at great risk.

According to the National Research Council, in 1990 African Americans earned only slightly more than 1 percent of the 36,027 PhDs awarded in the US. Latinos and native Americans were similarly underrepresented in proportion to their overall US population. Of the 24,190 US citizens in this pool, the number of minorities earning PhDs included: 828 Blacks, 698 Hispanics, 617 Asians, and 93 native Americans. Sadly, this meager showing represents a decrease not only in percentages but also in actual numbers o ver time. Between 1980-90, when the number of PhDs awarded increased nationally by 16 percent, those awarded to African Americans declined by 20 percent; for male African Americans the decline was more than 50 percent.

Replenishing our intellectual talent bank should be one of America's top priorities. An estimated 30 to 40 percent of this nation's current faculty at some 3,300 colleges and universities will retire by the early part of the next century, yet nearly one-third of the 366 US PhD-granting institutions did not award a single PhD in science or engineering to a minority student in 1991. Of the 149 institutions that did grant a PhD to an African American, only six granted more than 10. Minority presence should not be confined to the humanities and the social sciences alone. It is imperative that they be included in the whole spectrum of the sciences.

A brief look at the current status of minorities in the educational pipeline reveals the need for a dramatic overhaul of our educational system and its near- and long-term objectives.

In its 10th Annual Report, the American Council on Education projects that by 1995 African Americans will still account for about 13 percent of high school graduates, even as the total high school pool declines by 3.5 percent, with whites comprising most of the decline. If current trends continue, minorities in general will increase their percentage of the high school population to 28 percent, with Hispanics increasing their ranks by 52 percent.

Unfortunately, in terms of high school preparation for college, the picture is uniformly grim for much of the growing but still underrepresented population. Residing chiefly in our nation's decayed inner cities, such students receive a diluted version of what has become a diminished American education. The dropout rate is horrendous. In order to compete academically, our underrepresented, underprepared students often require remedial work in math and English.

There are not enough incentives for minorities who do complete the baccalaureate to pursue a career in academia. In addition, there are an insufficient number of role models and mentors, as well as incentives, for a graduate education to be an attractive option or possibility. Seeing few people like themselves, especially among the faculty, minorities may decide that academia holds no place for them.

If we are to develop a critical mass of underrepresented minority scholars at US colleges and universities, and teachers at the secondary school level, we must expand the number of minority students in our graduate schools. To accomplish this task, change must be effected in the environmental milieu in which minority students are immersed during their pre-professional development.

Often coming from low-income households, minority undergraduates must receive solid financial assistance as well as access to those vehicles that talented majority students have used to rise in the academic ranks. Such prerequisites include a wider knowledge of institutional opportunities, better access to advanced coursework and laboratories, strengthened academic advising programs, better mentoring programs, and expanded peer-group study support systems to increase retention and sustain the pipeline we


Leaders in higher education must forge partnerships with each other as well as with businesses and industries willing to commit their money, equipment, and management expertise because the enormity of solutions needed cannot be borne by universities alone. Creating alliances with the private and nonprofit sectors, higher education has been able to provide crucial enrichment programs, such as summer research opportunities for faculty and students, and incentive scholarships and fellowships to those who pl an careers in teaching and research.

Increasing and continued external support will ensure the expansion of the number of minority undergraduates and the implementation of better strategies to recruit present undergraduates into graduate and postgraduate programs.

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