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Diversity means overcoming not-so-great expectations

The good news: The American Council on Education reports that African-American, American Indian, Asian-American, and Hispanic enrollments in American colleges increased by 51.7 percent from 1991 to 2001, to more than 4.3 million students.

The bad news: According to the 2003 Census Bureau report, African-Americans represent 11 percent of the nation’s workforce yet hold a mere 4 percent of science and engineering jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher; Hispanics constitute 13 percent of workers, but hold only 3 percent of these jobs.

WPI is part of a national collaboration of colleges and universities seeking to increase enrollment, retention, and graduation of the nation’s underrepresented minority students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. It is one of five members of the Northeast Alliance for Minority Participation in Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering—a group that includes Northeastern University, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the University of Rhode Island, and the University of Connecticut. The Northeast Alliance is one of 32 similar alliances involving 450 institutions of higher learning; each is funded by the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP), a project of the National Science Foundation created by congressional mandate in 1991.

“It’s good for the country to make diversity a priority,” says Minority Affairs Director Calvin Hill. “Diversity of thought and people is an essential need in our ever-changing global workforce.”

Indeed, in 2002 the Congressional Commission on the Advance-ment of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technological Development stated: “Unless the science, engineering, and technology labor market becomes more representative of the workforce as a whole, the nation may well face severe shortages in workers [in these fields], such as are already seen in many computer-related occupations.”

So far, the LSAMP network has begun the long journey toward equal participation. In 2003, over 23,000 underrepresented minorities earned their science, math, engineering, or tech-nology degrees, up from 22,000 in 2002. In 1991, when the project started, the figure was only 7,000. “As a nation, we need 50,000 a year to make significant progress,” notes A. James Hicks, LSAMP director. “We’re heading in the right direction.”

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Last modified: Apr 12, 2005, 13:46 EDT
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