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News On 

Volume 2
Number 2
April 2000

In this issue:

Are Minority Graduates with Recently Acquired Science and Engineering Degrees Continuing their Education after Graduation?

My Vision of an AGEP Community

An Interview with Dr. Hector Flores

From Their Voices: American Indians In 
Higher Education And The Phenomenon Of Stepping Out

Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology Retention Database

A Profile of an AGEP Institution: University of Florida

From the editors

Managing Editor:Yolanda S. George
Virginia Van Horne
Art Director:
Ann Williams

Making Strides is a free, quarterly (April, July, October, and January) research newsletter published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Directorate for Education and Human Resources Program. Its purpose is to share information about minority graduate education in the fields of science, mathematics, and engineering. It is available in print and electronic format. Inquiries, information related to AGEP, and all correspondence should be sent to the editor. 

Science, Mathematics, Engineering and Technology Retention Database

By Theresa Y. Smith, Director, Center for Institutional Data Exchange and Analysis, The University of Oklahoma 

Studies of college graduation rates have consistently shown that blacks, Hispanics and American Indians graduated at a lower rate than whites and Asian Americans (Astin, 1993; NCAA, 1997).  A 1998-99 report of 269 colleges and universities in the Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange (CSRDE)  indicated that 54 percent of the 1990-92 entering freshmen graduated in six years.  The comparable graduation rates for underrepresented minorities were 33 percent for American Indians, 38 percent for blacks and 41 percent for Hispanics.  These rates were substantially lower than the graduation rates for white and Asian students.  Consequently, the disparities in the representation of blacks, Hispanics and American Indians widened as students progressed from college entry to graduation.  Underrepresented minorities constituted 13.4 percent of the 1990-92 entering student population, yet they accounted for only 9.7 percent of those who graduated within six years.

Specific retention studies for science, engineering, mathematics and technology (SMET) majors are generally limited in scope.  The only national database available was a 1995 study of 33 institutions in the NSF Research Career for Minority Scholarship and Alliances for Minority Participation programs.  The study reported similar racial disparities in the graduation rates of SMET majors.  Their six-year institution-wide graduation rates were 41 percent for blacks, 45 percent for Hispanics and 25 percent for American Indians, compared with 60 percent for whites and Asians.  The SMET-specific graduation rates were lower than the institution-wide rate; they varied from 29 percent for blacks, to 24 percent for Hispanics, 10 percent for American Indians and 37 percent for whites and Asians.  Again, substantial differences existed between the underrepresented minorities and whites.  This large difference in baccalaureate attainment is a major cause for the underrepresentation of degreed minority professionals in the SMET fields. 

 To overcome the lack of minority graduates and their subsequent participation in the SMET professions, the NSF has established as one of its goals “to increase the number of minority and other students who successfully complete baccalaureates in SMET.”  Several areas of racial disparities need to be addressed in order to achieve this goal.  At the postsecondary level, it is important to bridge the differences in the following areas: precollege academic preparedness, college enrollment rates and college graduation rates.  The strategies for intervention, therefore, should include remediation, recruitment and retention respectively. While all areas of intervention are important and interrelated, the shortage of data for monitoring the effect of retention programs is particularly prevalent.
Existing statistics suggest that by closing the racial gap in graduation rates, we can achieve an increase of 40 to 50 percent in underrepresented minority degree recipients each year.  Therefore, when working toward the goal of equitable participation of underrepresented minorities in the science, mathematics, engineering and technology (SMET) fields, one cannot overstate the importance of implementing retention programs for improving the graduation rate of underrepresented minority SMET majors.  Equally important is a database for evaluating the effect of retention programs over time and across geographical regions and institutional classifications.  This database does not exist today.

In August 1999, the Center for Institutional Data Exchange and Analysis (C-IDEA) received a three-year research grant from the Research on Educational Policies and Practices program at the NSF.  The goal of this research is to meet the need of a national SMET retention database.  Since 1994, C-IDEA has successfully organized the data exchange activities in the CSRDE.  The consortium now has a membership of more than 350 colleges and universities in the current year.  The CSRDE is now being used as a core group for soliciting survey participation, and its collaborative approach, as a model for information sharing.  Each of the consortium members will be asked to participate in the annual survey.  In return, each member will be entitled to the reports and analyses produced.  In addition to data sharing, the project will offer a forum for on-going discussions about effective programs for improving the retention of underrepresented and female SMET majors.  A list server and a quarterly newsletter will be developed to facilitate frequent discussions and information exchanges among the members.

The project has been in progress since September, 1999.  In addition to the Principal Investigator, Theresa Y. Smith, and the C-IDEA staff members, the project personnel includes a group of six advisors: Philip Garcia, University of Notre Dame; Myrtes Dunn Green, Stillman College; Gerald W. McLaughlin, DePaul University; Marsha K. Moss, University of Texas; Masha Hirano-Nakanishi, California State University System; and Jeffrey A. Seybert, Johnson County Community College.  They are among today’s leading institutional research professionals for having made substantial contributions to the studies of student outcomes assessment, longitudinal studies and/or minority participation in higher education.  The group held the first advisory meeting in October to finalize the survey instruments and its process.  The survey instruments are now being posted on the CSRDE web site, http://www.occe.ou.edu/csrde.

In the first year, about 350 colleges and universities in the CSRDE are invited to participate in the SMET retention survey.  Also included are 75 four-year degree institutions in the two programs sponsored by the NSF: the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation Program and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities-Undergraduate Program.  To date, nearly 140 colleges and universities have signed up for the survey (See list).

The survey is designed to measure, by race and by gender, the year-to-year retention rates of SMET majors for a period of six years beginning with the semester they entered college.  The surveys were distributed to colleges and universities in February and the due date for completing the survey is May 31.  The project plan is to publish the first annual SMET retention report by July 31.  The 1999-2000 SMET retention database along with a query system will be posted on the CSRDE web site for data analysis by all the survey-participating institutions by the end of September. 

The second survey cycle will begin with October 1.  In the second year, the survey instrument will include additional cohort groups of sophomore and junior SMET transfers.  Special emphasis will be placed on publishing reports and research papers and in encouraging the usage of these publications.  Included in the process, will be opportunities for dialogues among the participating institutions on issues relating to retention data, policy and practices.

 As the project progresses, special efforts will be made in expanding the scope of survey coverage and in increasing the number of participating institutions.  When the project ends in September 2002, the plan is for it to become self-supporting.  A membership fee will be required for all participating institutions.  It is the PI’s belief that by providing useful and quality information, the data collection process will be able to sustain itself though membership support after the initial three-year funding period. 

Collectively, the work of the survey-participating institutions will culminate into a longitudinal database including gender- and race-specific retention and graduation statistics for the general student population and for the SMET majors.  This database will be used to produce analyses and reports on a regular basis.  Over time, the regularly compiled data will offer an important historical context for observing changes and trends.  The primary data application is to provide timely observations of the effect of policies and practices on degree attainment of underrepresented SMET majors. 

Examples of specific questions that may be addressed using this data base include:  At what rates do SMET majors progress in college from year to year over a period of six years?  When are the SMET majors most likely to drop out from college? How do retention and graduation rates of SMET majors differ by race and gender?  How effective is a given intervention program for improving retention and graduation rates of underrepresented SMET majors?  To what extent, are the SMET student retention and graduation rates affected by institutional and student characteristics?  Are there differences in the retention and graduation rates between transfers and "native" students?  Which institutions have the highest graduation rates of underrepresented minority SMET majors?  What are the characteristics of these institutions and their students?

 As stated earlier, data on undergraduate SMET student retention and progression is lacking and regularly published national longitudinal studies about SMET majors do not exist.  This project will bring about the first and a regularly published report to provide the retention and graduation rates of SMET majors with an emphasis on those for the underrepresented minorities.  One of the most important mechanisms for sustaining an educational reform is a well-designed and regularly updated database that permits routine reviews of policies and practices.  Colleges and universities will be able to use this database as a mechanism to measure the effectiveness of programs designed to improve minority participation in SMET disciplines on their respective campuses.  The project is designed to reach individual colleges and universities.  The grass-root interest and experience that will be cultivated in the process can work as a driving force for improving the retention of underrepresented SMET majors. 

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