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Executive Summary 
Investing in Human Potential: Science 
and Engineering at the Crossroads
 

While much of the spotlight of educational reform has been on K-12 science and mathematics education, it is clear that the objective of expanding the base of participation in science, mathematics and engineering can only be achieved by extending the reform efforts to the nation's colleges and universities. This study examined the efforts made by U.S. higher education institutions to increase the participation of women, non-Asian minorities, and people with physical disabilities in science and engineering. Through surveys of the presidents/chancellors of 276 colleges and universities, the directors of nearly 400 recruitment/retention programs, and of nearly 100 disabled student services offices established by those colleges and universities, intensive case studies of a smaller set of institutions, information concerning the goals and methods of programs, and the policies and practices of the institutions were obtained and analyzed. Findings and recommendations for programs targeted at women and minorities, services targeted at people with physical disabilities, and institutional policies and practices are summarized below. 

Looking Past the Crossroads: The Future of Intervention

Most of the interventions devised by colleges and universities are aimed at enabling students and/or faculty from underrepresented groups to fit into, adjust to, or negotiate the existing system. There is little challenge to the structures that currently exist. A coherent, coordinated, articulated structural approach to enabling students from underrepresented groups to succeed in science, mathematics, and engineering programs has yet to be achieved by the institutions. Within the special project structure, which is the most common intervention strategy, we find that these models support enhanced learning for all students, not only for the underrepresented students for whom they may have been originally designed. Perhaps programs for women, minorities, and students with disabilities can once again point the way toward structured reform within science, mathematics, and engineering programs that can provide excellent education for everyone. 

Based on project descriptions and case studies, a model for the evolution of intervention programs was developed. This model includes five levels, ranging from isolated projects or programs to structural reform. The intervention efforts of most institutions was at the isolated projects level where program and projects were not connected in any way and relied primarily on soft money for support. In a few instances, institutions created centers for the coordination of large parts of the process of recruiting, retaining, tracking, and advancing students to graduate education (Level Four). Not found among any of the institutions was a model of structural reform where the structure of courses, pedagogical techniques, institutional climate, and system for recruitment and retention co-existed with a supportive administrative structure, that is, where the regular support of departments and programs provided mechanisms to support the achievement of all students committed to education in science and engineering. Only by moving from ancillary activities aimed at helping students survive the current educational climate to changing the climate in which the students are educated can we reach the goal articulated by the President and the nation's governors of significantly affecting the participation of women, minorities, people with disabilities, and, indeed, all students in science, mathematics, and engineering. 

 

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