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APLU Report Identifies Steps Universities & Policymakers Can Take to Broaden Efforts to Increase Diversity of STEM Faculty

Washington, DC – A new report and accompanying guidebook from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) released today finds that far too many individuals from underrepresented backgrounds stop pursuing STEM faculty positions at critical junctures along the varied and complex pathways to the professoriate.

The report, titled Strengthening Pathways to Faculty Careers in STEM: Recommendations for Systemic Change to Support Underrepresented Groups, outlines a series of steps higher education leaders, researchers, and policymakers can take to address these loss points to better attract, retain, and develop individuals from underrepresented groups in the STEM faculty. The new APLU analysis was supported through a National Science Foundation INCLUDES grant.

“Today’s report underscores the urgency of increasing STEM diversity and inclusion and provides options universities can use to best address this need on their campus,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “Public universities have been working to increase diversity in the STEM professoriate for years. APLU INCLUDES project was born of a frustration among public university leaders and NSF that we weren’t seeing enough progress nationally. This report validates that concern and provides an important path forward.”

Just 10 percent of STEM faculty at four-year institutions are from underrepresented backgrounds. Faculty diversity is particularly important because research shows students taught by individuals with similar backgrounds are more academically successful. The report is accompanied by a guidebook for institutions to self-assess their successes and challenges in advancing STEM faculty diversity.

The research also illuminates key findings to inform collaborative work to address the chronic shortage of diversity in STEM faculty nationally:

  • Many universities have robust programs to support students from underrepresented groups during their undergraduate and graduate careers, but that support often diminishes at the post-doctoral and early-career faculty stages.
  • While existing programs are serving the immediate needs of individual students, the localistic and targeted focus of these programs have a limited national impact on the most intractable challenges to diversifying the faculty.
  • The lack of federal student-level data frustrates efforts to follow aspirants to the STEM professoriate through career pathways, obscuring common roadblocks to becoming faculty.

Drawing on a landscape analysis of institutional programs aimed at boosting STEM faculty diversity, the research finds such programs are key drivers of progress to date. Yet the report also calls on institutions and policymakers to take a more holistic approach. A program targeted at attracting recent bachelor’s degree recipients to pursue faculty roles, for example, can’t address barriers such graduates may face later in their journey to a professorship. The report also prompts institutions to consider institution-wide bias and inclusion training to address barriers students face inside and outside STEM classroom environments.

Most important, the entire higher education community must mobilize and collaborate to achieve progress nationally. To that end, APLU and the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL), based at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, launched a five-year, National Science Foundation-funded project to cultivate a more diverse and inclusive STEM faculty nationwide. The effort, Aspire: The National Alliance for Inclusive & Diverse STEM Faculty, is working to advance diversity and inclusion at the institutional, regional, and national levels.

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