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Racial and ethnic minority students' success in STEM education
  • Samuel Museus, PhD, University of Hawaii at Manoa
  • Robert T. Palmer, PhD
  • Ryan J Davis, University of Maryland - College Park
  • Dina C Maramba, PhD
Increasing the success of racial and ethnic minority students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) has become a critical issue. Indeed, several trends underscore the importance of fostering success among minority students in STEM education. For example, according to U.S. Census Bureau projections, racial and ethnic minorities are expected to comprise more than half of the national population by 2050. This demographic shift means that minority students will make up an increasingly larger percentage of students in the national education system and STEM talent pool. Yet, relatively low rates of success among minority students in STEM education persist. Thus, understanding how to maximize success among racial and ethnic minorities in STEM education is evermore critical.
Existing evidence indicates that several factors may significantly influence the success of racial and ethnic minority students in STEM. At the K-12 level, scholars have underscored the critical linkage between underpreparedness and a lack of success in STEM education. Several K-12 factors appear to be responsible for the underpreparedness of minorities in STEM:
 Disparities in the funding of public schools, which leave schools that serve large numbers of minority students under resourced;
 An overrepresentation of unqualified teachers in schools that serve high numbers of minority students;
 Limited opportunities to take advanced placement courses;
 Systems that track minority students into remedial courses disproportionately;
 Low teacher expectations of racial and ethnic minority students;
 Stereotype threats that undermine minority students’ academic performance;
 Racial oppression and oppositional culture;
 Premature departure from high school.
There are, however, several K-12 factors that positively influence the success of racial and ethnic minority students in STEM as well, including the following:
 Parental involvement and support;
 The availability of bilingual education;
 Culturally relevant pedagogy;
 Early exposure to STEM fields;
 Interest in STEM careers;
 Self-efficacy in STEM subjects;
 STEM opportunity and support programs.
In higher education, researchers have uncovered several factors that can influence the success of racial and ethnic minority students in STEM majors, including the following:
 Colorblind meritocracy and Affirmative Action;
 Economic factors, such as financial aid and employment experiences;
 Institutional type;
 Campus culture and climate;
 Institutional agents;
 Psychological factors, such as self-concept and self-efficacy;
 STEM opportunity and support programs.
The comprehensive review, analysis, and synthesis of this literature reveal several important implications for educational research, policy, and practice. Educational researchers, for example, should consider the following:
 The need to understand racial and ethnic minority groups in more complex ways via disaggregated analyses;
 The importance of developing a greater understanding of parental influences on minority students’ success in STEM;
 The need to fill gaps in knowledge about how attending specific types of institutions influences success in STEM;
 The importance of understanding the experiences of minority students in STEM at community colleges;
 The gap in research that employs rigorous methods to understand whether STEM-specific opportunity and support programs are effective and inquiries that illuminate how they facilitate success among minority students;
In light of existing evidence, education policymakers should consider the following:
 The importance of ensuring that minority students are not incorrectly tracked into remedial coursework and have access to advanced placement courses;
 Attracting highly qualified teachers to schools with large numbers of racial and ethnic minorities through the use of incentives;
 The importance of offering sufficient numbers of advanced placement courses;
 Policies to achieve equity in the distribution of resources across school districts;
 The value of supporting bilingual education;
 Considering context in policy efforts, including the importance of cultural community engagement and ensuring sufficient need-based aid for low-income students in college.
Finally, the literature on minority students in STEM education suggest that K-12 and postsecondary educators should give attention to several considerations, including the following:
  • Racial and ethnic minorities; STEM; and academic success
Publication Date
Citation Information
Samuel Museus, PhD, Robert T. Palmer, PhD, Ryan J Davis and Dina C Maramba, PhD. Racial and ethnic minority students' success in STEM education. Hoboken: New JerseyVol. 36 (2011)
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