Washington, DC – Despite significant gains in recent years, not enough African American and Hispanic students are earning engineering degrees in the United States to fill the growing demand for high tech workers, according to a new report released today from APLU. The publication, which pulled data from the 2010-11 to 2015-16 academic years, is unique in its approach to examine trends in engineering degrees by subdiscipline, race, gender, and degree level on the national and institutional level.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the 2018 Status Report on Engineering Education: A Snapshot of Diversity in Degrees Conferred in Engineering found that the 42 percent increase in engineering degrees for all students over the most recent five-year period outperformed all other major fields of study, which saw 11 percent in growth. The number of engineering degrees that Hispanic students earned grew 79 percent while black students saw an increase of 35 percent, the same as Asian students and greater than white students who saw 30 percent in growth.
However, the increases in engineering degrees among underrepresented groups is not enough to close the gap in nearly every state between the share of engineering degrees and their representation in the college age population of the state. Hispanic students comprise 19 percent of all college undergraduates, but only 11 percent of all engineering bachelor’s degrees conferred. The gap is similar for black students. And while the overall and engineering figures for American Indians is very small, they too are significantly underrepresented in engineering.
“It is encouraging to see such strong growth among Black and Hispanic students in engineering in recent years, but there remains a significant gap in representation that needs to be filled quickly if we are going to meet the needs and demands of employers in high tech fields and position the country for long-term economic growth,” said Eugene Anderson, vice president of access and success at APLU and lead author of the report. “The overall enrollment of white students has dropped 8 percent in recent years. While that hasn’t directly affected engineering programs yet, it likely will do so soon. The only way we’re going to fill those jobs is by enrolling and graduating more underrepresented minority students.”
While the percentage of growth was smaller than underrepresented groups, the actual number of white students earning engineering degrees comprises nearly half of the overall growth (14,769 out of 30,864). If the current five-year trend in the increase of engineering bachelor’s degrees remained the same for each group, by 2026, about 223,000 bachelor’s degrees in engineering would be conferred to U.S. residents from all groups, more than doubling the total conferred in 2016. However, if the number of white students earning bachelor’s degrees in engineering stops increasing over the next decade, like the current trend among all non-engineering degrees, the number of engineering bachelor’s degrees conferred to U.S. residents will only increase by 44,000 degrees.
Other key findings from the report include:
Although the report doesn’t prescribe specific strategies for increasing the number of engineering degrees conferred to underrepresented groups, it provides a better understanding of where to focus efforts based on recent trends. For maximum impact on the number of engineering degrees conferred to underrepresented groups, efforts should be focused on two specific groups of institutions: 1) HBCUs and HSIs, which have shown an impact on the diversity of engineering that far exceeds the number of institutions that are HBCUs and HSIs and 2) universities with large engineering schools (primarily land-grant universities and large public universities) where even a small percentage increase will have a major impact on the overall number of underrepresented students earning engineering degrees.
On a national level, APLU is seeking to expand diversity in the STEM fields. Its ASPIRE Alliance, in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison is aimed at increasing the diversity of STEM faculty as a means to attract more underrepresented students into the STEM fields. And APLU’s Powered by Publics initiative is bringing 130 public universities and systems together to scale innovative practices aimed at closing the achievement gap and graduating more students. In addition, APLU is planning to partner with its members, federal agencies, the tech industry, and other stakeholders to address this issue.
“There has been a focus on broadening participation within engineering, and other STEM fields, but the findings of this report show us that much more has to be done to achieve the levels of diversity and number of skilled workers needed,” Anderson said.