ON THE AGENDA | MARCH 9TH, 2016 | Erin Knepler

Expanding Diversity in STEM Education

Earlier this month, I examined a tax-credit initiative designed to support community college graduates in President Obama's FY 2017 budget. In this post, I continue my examination of the higher education proposals in that budget. While the Obama budget has little chance of passing, I enjoy exploring commitments signaled by the budget and believe placing those commitments within the broader context of higher education to be a worthwhile effort.



Photo by Isabelle Saldana

A growing body of research suggests that diversity in groups bolsters their ability to solve problems. Increased diversity on college campuses has the potential to enhance studentsí advanced thinking and leadership skills. In the workplace, it can improve innovation and strengthen the bottom line.

Expanding diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has been a major focus of President Obama throughout his administration. This commitment is mirrored by the American public, who are convinced that math and science skills are crucial for the future. Strong majorities of Americans say there will be more jobs and college opportunities for students with those skills. It is also mirrored by the efforts of many organizations, including AAAS, which recently focused on the power of mentoring to boost diversity in STEM.

The President's fiscal year 2017 budget includes calls to increase investments and expand STEM opportunities for all groups. Two specific initiatives highlight this increased emphasis on expanding diversity in the STEM workforce.

Doing this isnít going to be easy. The grand challenge of broadening participation in STEM is to transform STEM preparation and inclusion at all levels in order to fully engage the nation's talent and enable the U.S. science and engineering workforce to thrive.

The first initiative is a collaboration with the National Science Foundation (NSF) and is called Inclusion across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (NSF INCLUDES). This national initiative supports efforts to develop talent throughout all sectors of society to build the STEM workforce.

The initiative aims to ensure the contributions of individuals from groups that have traditionally been underrepresented and underserved in the STEM workforce. These groups include women, members of racial and ethnic minority groups, persons with disabilities and persons with low socio-economic status. The FY 2017 budget calls for $16 million to develop new ways to increase diversity in STEM.

Specifically, the initiative endeavors to improve and increase STEM preparation through deeper classroom engagement and expanded access to STEM courses. NSF INCLUDES also aims to address various complex equity- and inclusion-related challenges.

Over the next ten years, NSF INCLUDES will support innovative teaching and learning models, networks, partnerships and research that ensure that women, blacks, Hispanics and people with disabilities are represented in STEM preparation and careers in percentages comparable to their representation in the U.S. population.

The second initiative focuses on expanding higher education opportunities for underrepresented groups. Through this initiative, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) will invest in a set of programs that have a strong focus on increasing access to STEM education.

This investment includes $108 million to increase the number of Hispanic and low-income students attaining degrees in STEM fields through the Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) STEM and Articulation Program. It also includes sustained funding for efforts to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in college through Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP). Finally, it includes increased funding for outreach and student services efforts designed to identify and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds through the EDís Federal TRIO Programs.

The value of diversity should be intuitiveóit makes sense that solving a complex problem would be aided by examining it from different angles. Similarly, different viewpoints can stimulate groups to break through gridlock and find new and more creative approaches to challenges.

We are agnostic when it comes to the specific policy efforts and funding priorities of the Obama administration. Yet with the majority of Americans convinced that STEM skills are crucial for the nation's future, addressing barriers to diversity and expanding STEM opportunities for all students seems a critical goal.


Comments

STEM funding

Submitted by: Anonymous Submission on Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

Which presidential candidates are most likely to support the recommendations from the STEM Education Coalition? I know one candidate has made his lack of support for women and minorities clear, but the other two haven't said anything. As far as I know, the only (former) candidate who mentioned it was Dr. Carson.


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